The Experience

Kayla Eaton, DC Central Kitchen & DC Food Policy Council

This past semester I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about food issues in DC, through engaging with DC Central Kitchen and DC Food Policy Council. DC Food Policy Council. According to DC Hunger Solutions, of the 43 full-service grocery stores, only two are located in Ward 4, four in Ward 7, and three in Ward 8. By contrast, Ward 3 – the highest income Ward – has eleven full service stores. Wards 7 and 8 have the District’s highest poverty rates and highest obesity rates (http://www.dchunger.org/about/facts.html). DC Food Policy Council was created in 2014 to combat food issues in the city. The mayor appointed 13 members to serve on the board, ranging from nonprofit leaders, scholars, business owners and community members. The council has four working groups that tackle different issues: sustainable food procurement, local food business & labor development, urban agriculture & food system education, food equity, access, and health & nutrition education. The Council collects and analyzes data on the local food economy and recommends policy to “promote food access, food sustainability, and a local food economy in the District” (DC Food Policy website).

My first meeting was the Sustainable Food Procurement working group. The meeting consisted of people from different organizations like DC Greens and Dreaming Out Loud, self-described “food geeks,” and a few community members. Each strategic group had a short term and long-term goal as well as main mission. The bill that they were reviewing that day would loosen up restrictions on what food can be donated. This would lessen food waste and help food security. We had a long discussion on the arbitrary nature of best by, sell by, and use by dates. We also discussed the “Good Food Program.” This started in LA, and DC is looking to replicate this program. This would mean that every DC Public School would locally source their food. At the last meeting they reviewed what the program was and assigned tasks to every person at the meeting. It was clearly a community effort and the work relied on the willingness of the members. The next working group meeting I attended was the local food business & labor development. We discussed the Cottage Food Act, which pertains to people making food in their house and selling it online without inspection of their house.

I also spent my time volunteering at DC Central Kitchen, an incredible non-profit that aims to break the cycle of hunger and poverty through “innovated social ventures” (DCCK website). The most interesting thing that happened whilst volunteering for DCCK happened on my way to the site for my second shift. Having already volunteered once before at a different location, I didn’t look at where exactly the kitchen was. As I rode the escalator out of the Judiciary Square station I typed in DC Central Kitchen into my maps and strolled through the streets. I came to a large building with no clear markings. People hung out outside having conversations with each other, not paying much attention to me. I remembered from the volunteer intro video that the main kitchen lay under the largest shelter in America. This must be it. There were no signs for the kitchen so I walked up the block, pulling up the email with directions. Two men stood against the wall of the building conversing. A black man running up and down the street exercising past me. I stood on the corner and called Mariah, who I was meeting for lunch. The running man asked me if I was lost, I smiled, laughing, and explained that I was, but my friend had given me directions, and now I knew where to go. He stood with his feet wide and raised his arms in front of him to mimic holding a gun.

“You’re not welcome here”.

It was cold out that day and my eyes had been watering from the wind. The stoplight changed and cars rushed past us. A lanky white woman with a knitted hat aged 22, trying to ignore the fact that a black man in his 30s was aiming an imaginary rifle in intimidation at her. I wanted to explain that I wasn’t a white gentrifier taking over the neighborhood. I wanted to explain that I wasn’t attempting to tell him how to live his life. I wanted to tell him that I was a student currently learning about gentrification in DC. I wanted to tell him that I worked for a syringe exchange service and provided health services judgment-free to sex workers, drug users, and those experiencing homelessness. I wanted to tell him that yesterday I had shared an article about police brutality in DC. I wanted to tell him that one time I went to a Standing up For Racial Justice meeting. I wanted to tell him that I was on his side. But what does any of that mean?

I said I’m sorry and continued walking.

“For what?”

“For being here.”

I was aware of me whiteness, my femininity, my class, my privilege and the space that I was taking up. I was aware of the number of people that flood to that corner every week to ‘save the community’ to ‘feed the poor’. To feel complacent in a system built to oppress, to feel justified to continue living the way they do, the way I do. And I was just another one of them. Even if I wanted to explain that I wasn’t, I was. A white family walked behind me in colorful Washington DC hats, they asked if I was okay. I assured them that I was fine. And I was fine. I didn’t take this personally. I attempted to empathize with him. This man didn’t know me, and I didn’t know him either. I assumed him to be a man, assumed him to be black, assumed him to have some disorder as he had pointed an imaginary gun at me, which in all honesty was extremely terrifying. I knew there was nothing there but there was something about that situation that haunts me. It would have been different if he had just yelled that. But that imaginary gun, he believed in it, and so did I. The motion was so deliberate that I had put my hands up, showing my empty palms.

I don’t share this interaction to incite sympathy for myself, or try to pretend I’m a victim or that I’m tough or with it. I share this interaction because it needs to be asked: what does this interaction have to do with food & agriculture? And what is the larger context? For one, it reminds me of the distinction between intent and impact. I have great intentions but I must be aware of my impact as well. I want to help with DC’s food insecurity, but I have to interrogate why I want to help and how. No one knows the issue better than those experiencing it. I need to ensure I am lifting up voices that have been oppressed, listening to the solutions that the community is proposing, be in touch with the already existing networks that are fighting for access to healthy foods. I need to be aware of saviorism, of the white man’s burden, of histories of colonialism and the way they manifest today. It reminds me that you can’t talk about food issues without talking about labor issues and identities and race and class and politics and history. I wanted so badly for that man to know that I understand, but in reality, do I truly understand?

Sam Groskind, Bread for the City

I’m Sam Groskind, a Law and Society major at American University. This semester I’ve been volunteering at Bread for the City as part of the CSLP program for my Intro to Public Health course. Bread for the City is a nonprofit that provides a multitude of services to Washington DC’s most vulnerable residents. Their motto is “Dignity, Respect, and Service,” and they accomplish this through medical, legal, and social services, and by distributing food and clothing. I have been volunteering in the food pantry, which has given my the opportunity to witness the hunger and poverty that persists in our nation’s capital. Many Americans don’t see poverty in their daily lives, which leaves them unaware of the fact that millions of people in this country are food-insecure, meaning that they don’t know where their next meal will come from. The same is true for many students at American University. Many of us are affluent and have come here from all over the country, yet few of us get the chance to interact with and serve the
DC community.

I’ve volunteered at food banks on and off my whole life, so I felt prepared for the work itself. However, I was a little apprehensive at how I’d be received by the staff and clients in the food bank, but those fears were entirely unfounded. It’s hard work, but it’s a lot of fun and we have a good time. The most important thing for me is to treat the clients with dignity, because the truth is, it’s not easy to ask for help when you need it most. I learn the most from my conversations with the food pantry staff and in my quick interactions with clients, and I’m able to tie some of it into what I’ve been learning in Public Health.

It’s been interesting to observe what kinds of food the clients choose. Some are only familiar with processed foods, and they’ll ask for white rice or spaghetti, white bread and crackers, and they don’t want certain vegetables because they don’t like them or aren’t sure how to use them. Others look forward to coming to the food pantry because it might be the only time during the week that they are able to access healthier options such as whole wheat bread, vegetables, and lean meat. Bread for the City partners with local farmers markets and farms to collect unsold produce that would otherwise go to waste, and they encourage clients to choose the healthier options when possible.

All in all, this has been an incredible experience and I encourage everyone who can to find a nonprofit in DC and volunteer. I realized that Tuesdays have become my favorite day this semester because that’s when I volunteer. It’s a fairly long commute and the work is exhausting, but there’s no substitute for the gratification that comes from giving your time and effort to those who need it the most.

Samuel Oswald, Mary House

My name is Samuel Oswald. I am a freshman studying International Relations at American University. At the beginning of this semester, I decided to combine the Community Services Learning Program (CSLP) with my Social Justice and Science College Writing course taught by Professor Michael Moreno. With the help of Professor Moreno and the CSLP staff, I found an opportunity to volunteer at the Mary House in Brookland, Washington, DC. This organization provides after school care and learning support to children from the area. The Mary House has also partnered with Panera Bread and YES Organic in an effort to distribute surpluses of food to families connected to the organization.

I joined the Mary House as an after school program assistant. With around twenty children ranging in age from 3 to 13 years old and only three full-time program leaders, there was plenty for me to do on a regular basis. I tried to entertain, read, and study with the children for the hours they were at the Mary House each day.

Truth be told, I was a little nervous to work with children because I had never been responsible for someone else before. My worries were cast aside after one session with the Mary House. The kids were energetic and sometimes wild, but my job of watching over them was far from difficult. They ate snacks, went outside to play, came inside to read, and then did arts and crafts. I joined them in their fun whenever they wanted me around. If they did not want me around, I sat back and made sure that their playing with each other did not turn into fighting. Again, my job was easy.

I have yet to mention that many of the children at the Mary House have parents who recently immigrated to the United States. Here in lies my experiences’ connection to my Social Justice and Science course. I discovered through working with the Mary House how important providing a supportive community to people who are rebuilding their lives half a world away from where they previously lived. Simple after school programs are perfect for building this supportive community. I am trying to convey my experience with the Mary House in an editorial I am writing for Professor Moreno on the importance of community support in reference to immigrant mental health. I see a correlation, so I am trying to convince others to pay attention.

I hope that other students will take the opportunity to enrich their educational experience at American University through CSLP. I had a wonderful time working with the Mary House. I met a lot of great adults and children and was able to expand my knowledge by learning outside of the classroom. CSLP gave me an excuse to spend less time studying and more time becoming a part of the Washington, DC community off campus. So often, students like myself get caught up in the academic aspects of college that we forget there are other ways of learning. I will be forever thankful to have been pushed towards the Mary House by CSLP. I am for sure continuing my work with the organization after my completion of the program.

Anika Tahsin, Humanwire

My name is Anika Tahsin, and I am a junior majoring in International Studies. For the Community Service Learning Program, I worked with Humanwire in order to build on the themes discussed in my Migration and Development class.

Humanwire is a crowdfunding website helping refugees across the world. Humanwire takes away the middleman from the equation, directly connecting donors to refugees and refugee families. Every dollar donated goes to refugees in need. If donors are inclined to support the work of the organization, they can donate to a different fund that goes towards Humanwire employees’ wages.

I am in charge of writing refugee profiles for Humanwire. On-the-ground volunteers and interpreters register refugees into the Humanwire system and help refugees fill out questionnaires. I consolidate the questionnaires and put together a profile, building a coherent narrative telling the story of the individual or the family. On a few occasions, I even had the opportunity to converse with refugee families directly via Skype. Having the opportunity to form my own questions and communicate face to face definitely helped me understand the conditions in refugee camps better.

Going in, I knew working for Humanwire would not be easy. I was proven right by the stories I encountered. Refugees are among some of the most vulnerable groups of people in the world. They live lives filled with danger and uncertainty. Almost every case I was given was wrapped in pain and loss. The work took an emotional toll on me, especially in the beginning. However, I knew that the work I was doing was important and I refused to let myself become discouraged.

As time went on, I found that the work became easier. It wasn’t that I became desensitized to the stories of hardship. On the contrary, I was assigned more difficult cases as time went on since I now had more experience with the work. What made the work easier was seeing the fruits of my labor. Refugee profiles that I had written were chosen by sponsors and campaigns were launched for the refugee families. I checked in on the campaigns daily and celebrated when the campaign goal was matched. This part of the experience was very rewarding, and it encouraged me to keep working through difficult cases in the future.

The topic of refugees covers a large section of my Migration and Development class. My experience with Humanwire allowed to see the theories and challenges discussed in class being played out in the real world. I found the gender aspect of refugee life especially interesting, as most of the cases I worked on for Humanwire involved women. Challenges that were specific to female refugees also helped me further understand the need for intersectional feminism in the world.

Alejandro Mora, The League of United Latin American Citizens

While attending American University this semester I was thrilled to discover that there was a complete spectrum of classes that were offered in Spanish AND that we had the option to complement our in class instruction with service learning with a variety of Latino serving organizations. As someone who was born in Mexico, but immigrated to the United States when I was only 5 years old, having the option to take courses designed for heritage learners has been a transformative experience. Through our coursework, I was exposed to the history, art, and culture of many Latin American countries, and given the opportunity to explore the historical context, along with the contemporary scholarship, that facilitated a unique depth of cross cultural exchange that I had never experienced growing up in Utah.

I chose to attend American University both because of its strong ties to decision makers in DC, but also because of the important research taking place on campus as a part of the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies. As someone who understands the unique circumstances that many immigrants face, and will face as a result of the policy priorities of the new administration, I have experienced a renewed sense of urgency to understand and promote the upward mobility and social and economic development of immigrants at the local and national level. With that in mind, I decided to partner with LULAC as a part of AU’s Community Service Learning Program (CSLP).

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) is the oldest and most widely respected Hispanic civil rights organization in the United States. Since its establishment in 1929, they have worked to advance the economic condition, educational attainment, and political influence of the Hispanic population across the country. Through their deep network of active LULAC members across the country they have consistently been on the forefront of developing innovative strategies dedicated to empower, mentor, and promote Latino leadership and representation at all levels of government.

Having worked with the local chapter in Utah, I was looking forward to the potential of contributing (if even in a small regard) to their impressive efforts nationwide. I also wanted to learn what I myself could be doing in my everyday life to combat the distorted and miss informed narratives about Latin American immigrants. As a part of AU’s CSLP, I was able to send 40 hours working with LULAC’s National Development Director David Perez, and gained valuable insight into what it takes to sustain its nationwide efforts. I was surprised to learn that although the Hispanic community represents an estimated 54 million people comprising nearly 17% of the population, corporate donors are still working to understand the power/impact/value of their investment. Specifically, how to quantify the return on their investment. As someone who has worked with several Latino organizations I can attest to the tremendous positive impact that donations of any kind have on building the capacity of organizations working with one of the most underserved communities in our country—especially one with a combined buying power of over $1.3 trillion.

Working with David helped me understand how corporate philanthropy not only promotes the upward economic mobility of the Latino community, but also creates long-term financial value, customer loyalty, and employee engagement within the funding corporation. Working with LULAC and David helped me understand how the most important thing that anyone of us can do (if we are truly invested in improving conditions for the Latino community) is to pull out our wallets and make a donation. Through my CSLP experience with LULAC I was able to do targeted donor research, help with and attend their National Legislative Conference and Gala, and network with the dynamic and dedicated staff of the organization. I definitely plan to take advantage of the CSLP learning program the next couple of semester to work with other Latino organizations in DC area and to keep in touch with my newfound friend at LULAC.

Isabella Dominique, DC Reads

Introduction

My name is Isabella Dominique and I am a freshman at American University. I am currently double majoring in CLEG (communications, law, economics, government) and political science. I am connecting my CSLP credit to the writing seminar I’m enrolled in. My seminar focuses on social justice and law. I felt this was the most fitting of choices because my class and I spend most of our time exploring the avenues of social justice and equity in America. My knowledge I’ve gained from volunteering with DC Reads applies well to the content I am learning in my writing seminar because I am tutoring the students in math and ELA, but through the lens of a social justice curriculum.

My Volunteer Site

I volunteer at the Higher Achievement site for DC Reads. Higher Achievement is program that is offered from 6-8pm on select weekday nights. Scholars from grades five through eight are welcome to attend. Each night, we are given a curriculum that supplements what the scholars have already learned during their normal school hours. However, we teach them different ways to better retain that information and apply it to their own lives. As a volunteer, I form bonds with my scholars and I ensure that they are actually learning all the curriculum asks of them. Since the groups of scholars are generally small, it’s easier to make sure every student is confident with what they are learning.

My Expectations

I have been most surprised by the sheer eagerness of the scholars that attend Higher Achievement. Before I had ever gone to site, I was expecting the scholars to be less excited about spending more time after their normal school days to only do more school. However, these students do an excellent job at being kind, courteous, and passionate about becoming more knowledgeable. It makes the experience for both parties (mentor and mentee) much more enjoyable and it creates a strong bond between both the mentors and their scholars.

Course Connection

My writing professor has worked to teach my class about the becomings of civil rights in America. She has split the class into four sections: the Civil Rights Movement/black history, women’s suffrage, sexual assault, and free speech. I appreciate being able to relearn and dive deeper into the concepts behind the Civil Rights Movement because they are just learning it for the first time. I now have a greater understanding of the content that my scholars are learning themselves. About 98% of my scholars are people of color, most of them being black or Hispanic. The content I am learning in my own college course allows me to better understand how they might be underprivileged and how I can use my opportunities as a college student to better their own chances of success. At Higher Achievement, the scholars are learning through a social justice curriculum. They understand the importance of equity and equality, but I think it’s even more important to reinforce the idea that there is still work to be done. They were born with the platforms to create more change and I have found that encouraging them and telling them that they are able to make change has allowed them to better their self-confidence.

William Shriver, Latin American Youth Center

The volunteer opportunity that I worked through is with my Spanish professor Christina Hernandez, even though I am majoring in International Relations in SIS. My Spanish professor wanted me to get more practice with my Spanish oral skills somewhere outside of the classroom and I got exactly that. The site that I am primarily volunteering at is the Latin American Youth Center in Columbia Heights. The Latin American Youth Center serves as a home for local youth to come for tutoring, education, recreation, and just as a place to hang out. The Latin American Youth Center offers a great safe and open space for local youth to come and have fun and take advantage of tutoring and education opportunities all for free. The Latin American Youth Center does amazing work helping local youth stay off the streets and have a welcoming community to come to.

As a volunteer I have taken a large variety of roles at the Latin American Youth Center. I helped clean up, set up the area, tutor local kids and just help the kids have fun at the center. The volunteering at LAYC has truly been a great way for me to practice my Spanish with native speakers. It has offered such a different language experience, one so different from only speaking with my professor or other AU students. I have spoken with people from Mexico, Peru, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. It has been incredibly eye opening hearing these students’ stories, some who speak very little English and only been in the US for a few months. The experience has shattered my expectations, as I have met some truly unique and moving characters. While volunteering, I am able to share great moments with the students while simply just playing some ping-pong or pool with them. It is a great feeling to be able to hold a conversation in Spanish with them, something that I have always wanted to challenge myself with in the past.

My biggest surprise so far have definitely been the people I have met. As I mentioned before, I have met some amazing people so far. The lead director of the Teen Center at the LAYC is a woman named Fernanda from Monterrey, Mexico. Her energy, positivity and amicableness every day truly inspires me. She has an incredible passion for helping others and looking out for the local students as if they were her own kids. On top of Fernanda, the students have equally inspired me. It is so inspiring to me that the students can have such positivity and happiness while facing the challenges of living in a brand new country and learning a new language. They all have been so friendly and welcoming to me, even when my Spanish is not the best. This will only further my Spanish abilities and connections to the language.

Over all, my CSLP experience has been a great and educational one. The opportunity has been able to broaden my horizons while learning valuable Spanish communication skills. I will remember those I have met for a long time, while their stories and words have inspired me to appreciate what I have and look for a brighter future. My volunteering at CSLP has been an amazing experience and I hope to gain even more experience in the future.

Grace Lohmeier, Iona Senior Services

My name is Grace Lohmeier and I am a freshman Public Health major. This semester I am working at Iona Senior Services in Tenleytown and attaching the CSLP credit to my Intro to Health Promotion class. Iona is an organization that works with older adults and their families through the difficulties of aging. The organization has a number of different programs, including classes, weekend meal delivery, and an active wellness program at the St. Alban’s location. The areas I am involved with are weekend meal packing and the day program at the Wellness and Art Center at Iona’s main location. The day program is important because it provides supervision and care each day for older adults suffering from chronic conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, and allows them to go home each night. The program is ideal for individuals who may need some additional help or support, but do not need to be hospitalized full time. The Wellness and Arts center assists caregivers in improving the quality of life for their loved ones by immersing them in a supportive and social community each day.

Throughout the semester, I have been going to the Wellness and Arts center once a week for three or four hours and assisting the participants in any activities they are doing that day. The schedule for the program varies in terms of activities but has some similar elements each day. I arrive after they finish eating lunch and are about to begin the afternoon activity. Some of these have been: writing a story as a group, trivia, learning more about famous people, and even listening to a musical performance of love songs the week before Valentine’s Day. My role in these activities was assisting the person leading it or simply helping ensure the participants were engaged by talking to them or sitting with them. After the group activity, the participants moved to sit at tables and had their afternoon snack. Around this time some of the participants would start to get picked up and the people remaining would often color in pictures or do other crafts at the tables. I would sit and talk with the participants or help them do the crafts.

I expected this volunteering to be somewhat emotionally difficult because the participants have chronic conditions, many of them involving memory loss. One challenge I encountered during my volunteering was reassuring some of the participants that someone would be coming to pick them up eventually. When the participants notice other people are getting picked up and they do not remember how they are getting home, they get very confused and agitated. The volunteers are trained to help in these moments by reassuring them or distracting them with a new activity. This part of volunteering met my expectations and was difficult and hard on me emotionally to see the participants so upset.

My other volunteer position at Iona includes packaging meals and putting them in cars to be delivered to older people living in the community. This is less interactive, but still important and related to promoting health. My CSLP experience connects very well with my Intro to Health Promotion class because the Wellness and Arts center emphasizes healthy living on a physical and emotional level. Older people have high rates of depression and many medical issues that can be related to difficulty exercising. The program has physical activities such as exercise classes and walking groups to improve the physical wellbeing of the participants. There are also nurses that work at the center to provide medical supervision and treatment that some participants need, such as dispensing medication and taking blood pressure. The biggest role the center has in health promotion is in promoting mental health by allowing the participants to have a social life. Loneliness is a major contributor to depression and social interaction can also help slow cognitive decline. Iona focuses on the elderly popular which is a group at risk for many health problems and the program helps maintain a good quality of life for the participants.  I have taken away many things to use in my future career in public health. I have learned that it can be helpful to focus on specific populations and their needs when working to promote health. I was most surprised to enjoy my volunteering as much as I have and that the participants are more similar to me than I had originally expected.

Kendell Lincoln, Community of Hope

My name is Kendell Lincoln. This spring, I’ve attached a Community-Service Learning Project to my Introduction to Health Promotion (HPRM-240-002) class. The organization I chose to work with is Community of Hope (COH), particularly their volunteer doula program. While the organization as a whole offers a variety of services, including emergency housing, day care services, etc., the doula program has a particular mission. We offer support for women during their prenatal, labor, and postpartum experiences. The women we serve tend to be low-income minorities and have been previously excluded from the “new wave” of birth practices (midwives and doulas). COH’s doulas extend these services to women who previously would not have been able to take advantage of the support and empowerment that comes from using a doula.

My role at Community of Hope differs by day, but my largest role is being on-call for 24-hour shifts once or twice a week. I am responsible for communicating with the midwife on call, and when a mom goes into labor I am called to respond and help her through her birth. I also conduct prenatal calls, where I phone an expectant mother and walk through her birth preferences with her. The main goal is to get the mother thinking about her ideal birth situation, and draw her attention to the things she can choose during her labor, such as birth positions, pain management interventions (both natural and medical), and postpartum care. I have also been coordinating and leading doula nights and pregnancy classes. I had very few expectations because I had just finished my doula certification, and I knew the challenge was going to be truly making a mom feel comfortable during a tough labor. But during my first birth, I realized that it was a privilege to feel uncomfortable and I had to rise to the occasion for the mom, empowering her and reminding her that at the end of all of this, she was going to have a new life in her arms that she was prepared to care for. This empowerment and reminder of a woman’s true self-efficacy can act as a step towards equalizing new mothers and their babies, regardless of socioeconomic or racial determinants. The biggest lesson I’ve taken away is that something as natural as birth still requires education, empowerment, and compassion. Volunteering my services as a doula has given me that opportunity, and I will forever be grateful for my time with Community of Hope.

Andrea Reid, Mentors of Minorities in Education (Whittier)

My name is Andrea Reid. I am currently in the second year of a Finance and Economics double major in The American University. Being from the Dominican Republic, a small island in the heart of the Caribbean, the general education courses offered of Education for International Development intrigued me. The breadth and depth of such course includes the study of educational systems of high school institutions of developing economies, as well as developed ones, including the United States. This motivated me to explore the educational systems of the US in order to better understand, and better participate in class debates. After researching and trying to figure out where I wanted to volunteer, and many visits to the Center for Community Engagement at AU for assistance, I was moved by the mission of DC Reads, a not-for-profit organization that works to reduce illiteracy rates of Washington, DC – which is the central focus of the course I am currently taking. I am specifically at the MOMIES (Mentors of Minorities in Education) organization at their Whittiers location.

What does a day at Whittiers look like? Two days a week, I leave AU from the Zip car parking lot behind the library, with seven or eight colleagues at 3:45 pm, and arrive at Whittiers around 4-4:10pm. Once we arrive, we all go together through the big red door, sign in at the front desk where a female guard, always very presentable sits, and then we all diverge in to the rooms we are used to assisting. I am currently working with students of third and fourth grade, with around fifteen students overall. Once I get into the room, the kids start saying “sister, sister” I want you to help me, and even take me by the hand so that no other students take me. I then start to help him or her on their homework, mostly math and reading, until completing it. On days of great weather, we go outside the rest of the time to play kickball, and tag with the little ones until it is time to leave.

Going to Whittiers has never been a burden, not even the most stressed of days. The kids are very welcoming and are always pleased to see us, receiving us with a big smile, even when they are not so eager to work. It is a break from the hard day at AU. I started with no expectations at all. I had previously worked at public schools back in the Dominican Republic and was keen to see how the education system in public schools in the US differed from those back home. I have found differences, but mostly on installations rather than on educational patterns. Hence, I do believe there is still a lot to be done, in terms of culture, in order to improve educational systems, specifically of public schools, both in the US and in the Dominican Republic.

Charin Khan, Kid Power, Inc.

My name is Charin Khan and am a current freshman at American University. I am studying Public Health, and worked with Kid Power this semester for my Community Service Learning Project; I have attached this CSLP to Intro to Health Promotion. Kid Power is a non-profit organization that is an afterschool program among D.C. Public Schools. This program’s mission is to inspire youth leadership by promoting academic advancement, physical and emotional wellness, and positive civic engagement in underserved communities in D.C.P.S.

I have been working alongside the students at Jefferson Middle School (in SW, D.C.) in and J.O. Wilson Elementary School (in NE, D.C.). At Jefferson Middle School, I work with children between the ages of 11-13 while at J.O. Wilson Elementary School I work mainly with 4th graders. Both schools have implemented two Kid Power programs: Academic Power Hour and Veggie Time. Academic Power Hour is an hour dedicated to working on assignments and receiving one-on-one academic support, which addresses the students’ individual academic and social needs. During this hour, my responsibilities include helping students with their homework and providing individual tutoring to students who need it. Throughout the weeks that I have been at this site, I have helped students with a variety of subjects including Math, Science, Spanish, Civics and English. Although, I participate in Power Hour at both locations, I also assist leading Veggie Time solely at Jefferson Middle School. Veggie Time is a program targeted towards creating a sustainable community through nutrition education. Participants of Kid Power study and learn about agriculture, environmental science, and healthy living practices. We do activities such as hands on math and science projects, cooking classes, and creating business plans to build financial literacy and increase marketing technique knowledge. The projects we have worked on this year include creating and selling cranberry jam and barbeque sauce (all created and influenced by the kids). In order to successfully execute these projects, Kid Power hosts several activities (that I assist leading) to ensure a holistic understanding of the project.

Upon beginning my time with Kid Power and learning about what this organization does for its constituents, I expected to be helping kids with homework and tutoring. Despite meeting those specific expectations, I was also presented with unexpected experiences. Although I was aware that working with children requires a lot of patience, this experience has shown me how imperative it is to be patient and flexible. For example, there were many instances throughout the semester in which I would help most students with the same assignment; while a few understood it perfectly and did not need any help, others struggled with it and needed me to walk through it with them. Differences like these were always interesting to observe as it helped me get to know each student better, and find ways to that I could improve to help the individual students. Although my small contribution does not make much of an impact on their lives, it is surprising and reassuring to see students improve certain academic skills that we work on together. Through this experience, I had the opportunity to speak to many students about many subjects including their home lives, what they like and dislike, their eating habits and general things that they enjoy talking about. When we talk about nutrition and eating healthy, some children express eating a certain amount of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout their week while most do not. I find this to connect to Health Promotion as we learn so much about the importance of eating well and exercise and its positive impacts on all aspects of our health. Although, accessibility is an immense influencer on whether or not these children can make healthy foods a regular part of their diets, which is a major topic of conversation in my class. I think my biggest takeaway from this semester will be appreciating how imperative it is to be patient and apply all the things I have learned from both students and faculty in my academic and personal life.

Giselle Rodriguez, Kid Power, Inc.

My name is Giselle Rodriguez and I’m a Public Health major. This semester I am doing my Community Service Learning Project with Kid Power Inc. and I’m connecting it to my Multicultural Health class. Kid Power is a nonprofit organization that works with DC public schools to promote positive civic engagement and academic development. Their mission is to teach the children about proper nutrition, exercise, and overall physical and emotional wellness. The organization’s main goal is to educate the kids and ensure that they are reaching their full potential. The program mainly works with kids who go to schools in Southeast DC and majority of the students are children of color, specifically African American. The parents of many of the children we serve work long hours and don’t always have the time to help their children with their homework or can’t pick them up after school because of their work schedule. Kid Power proves quite beneficial to parents because it gives them the opportunity feel at ease knowing their kids are in school doing something productive and constructive. Along the same lines because the kids are still in school learning and participating in positive activities their grades and leadership ability both improve.

I work at Malcolm X Elementary School and my main job is to help my site coordinator, Ms. Shana, in whatever way I can. Usually, I prepare for the activity of the day whether that’s a STEM activity or preparing for clubs. I chose to focus on the physical wellness aspect of the program so that I could relate it to my multicultural health class. Because Kid Power has a program called Veggie Time where the kids learn about nutrition and healthy eating, I figured I could work with the sports club to make a sports curriculum that would work in accordance with Veggie Time. That way the children get a well-rounded physical wellness education in addition to whatever they are learning from their physical education curriculum. I knew that this work would best fit with my public health interests and would make sense when relating it to my class.

It has proven more difficult than I originally expected because of logistical issues and changes in the schedule to accommodate the needs of the kids. For the first month of the my CSLP, instead of working with the sports club I was working with the arts and crafts club instead. I knew that working with these kids was what my site coordinator needed me to do. However, once I started getting outside and seeing how the excited the kids were to play whatever sport we planned for the day I knew that all the days spent inside were worth it.

Seeing as all the kids are children of color living in an urban environment they don’t get the chance to be outside that often. The sports club gives them the opportunity to go outside, get their energy out, and just be kids. From a public health stand point it is well known that African Americans are more likely to suffer from poorer health than their white counterparts. By having this sports club that would work in conjunction with Veggie Time, we were setting the kids up with better health practices. Majority of the time the kids wanted to play either football or basketball so getting them to try sports like soccer, kickball, or softball was quite difficult. I didn’t think that something as simple as sports could differ so much. Working with kids has taught me the art of patience and perseverance because while it can be difficult to get the kids to listen or follow directions once they’re running around and having a good time it all becomes worth it.

Michal Petros, Lutheran Social Services

My name is Michal Petros and I am a second year student at American University. My major is International Relations, with a focus in Comparative/Global Governance and Identity, Race, Gender and Culture in sub-Saharan Africa. I am currently working with Lutheran Social Services (LSS) and connecting my work to my gateway course for Comparative and Global Governance. Lutheran Social Services is an organization that works to aid and resettle refugees at their various locations within the United States. This semester, my work has been with the office in Hyattsville, Maryland.

As a volunteer at my service site, I have done manual labor tasks such as organizing the office space and more administrative tasks such as entering refugee individuals or families’ information on LSS’ database.  In entering the information of refugees, I have gained knowledge in the procedures that refugees go through once they have entered the USA – an example being how they decide if an individual will be given financial assistance from the government.

When starting at LSS, I expected to be given minor administrative tasks throughout the day, such as filing and shredding papers. Although my volunteering began with a morning of organizing shelves, I was quickly given a responsibility that was essential to the functioning of the office. My supervisor showed me how to use their online system, in which I updated how much money that individuals or families received from LSS. Along with entering financial data, I was given a pile of files that belonged to different families, and my task was to organize them to be put into their respective hard copy files. As I filed papers that I had entered the information of or had organized, I was told by the regional manager that its important that I ask if I am not sure where a specific paper goes as its imperative that all newly entered information is easily accessible. I was surprised that I was trusted with this task on my first day, but I am grateful as I’m learning how to use a new database while gaining knowledge first hand on how LSS works to promote self sufficiency in refugees.

Connecting this to my course, I am directly observing a level of domestic governance. LSS is a self-governing institution with a public goods provision. As their website concisely states,

“On the path to regain independence, families receive intensive case management, cultural orientation from our trained staff of professionals, and other services to gain self-sufficiency. We direct newcomers to appropriate community resources while helping them to become active members of their new communities.”

In addition to providing public goods and services, LSS works off a simple narrative as my professor, Michael Schroeder, has discussed in class. They consistently reiterate through their mission statement, vision and social media that they are looking to help vulnerable populations, which is a fundamental aspect to their Lutheran faith. It has been an amazing opportunity for me to combine volunteering for a cause I care about deeply and my primary academic focus within International Relations. I’m excited to see what more I am able to learn as the semester comes to a close.

Margaret McFarland, IONA Senior Services

When I thought about a senior community center prior to my time at IONA, I envisioned seniors who were no longer able to care for themselves—a room laden with wheelchairs and walkers and oxygen tanks. The thought made me sad, reflecting on my own grandparents’ degradation. I was skeptical, not in the facility itself, rather my own ability to stay positive. I was pleasantly surprised by the vibrant, diverse community IONA supports. There were seniors on all spectrums of the scale; some strutted through the doors with youthful spunk and others glided with supportive assistance. They came from all different walks of life, culture, and beliefs.

Courtney and Nathaniel run a tight ship. Everything is planned to a T—from the number of milks they order for lunch to the precise placement of the tablecloths and centerpieces. Our Wednesday routine was mostly set in stone. The participants begin arriving around 10:00am, giving ample time to set up their stations for fitness class. Ms. Jerri rolls in promptly at 11:00am, ready to start class. Dumbbells and resistance bands in tow, the group set out to complete a workout that I even find challenging. It is so fun to watch everybody challenge themselves. The entire workout is geared to strengthening the muscles most important for stabilizing and mobility. It is revitalizing to see people four times my age still taking care of their bodies.

After the workout, Nathaniel and the volunteers serve lunch. This is my favorite time. I get a chance to engage with the participants and learn more about their lives. Every week I met somebody new who left me in awe, from learning about Buddhism from an ex-monk to speaking in Spanish to a group of women about Latin American culture. While the participants finished their meals, the volunteers set up for bingo with the local elementary school. Every Wednesday, a class of second graders trades off playing bingo with their “grand friends”. If the seniors were not playing bingo with the kids, they were participating in the weekly lifestyle discussion.

While working at IONA was rewarding, I did not fully understand the value of my work until recently. I was sitting behind the check-in table greeting participants when a new face came through the door: a woman in her 60’s with bright red lipstick. She seemed out of sorts; it was obviously her first time in the space. Courtney soon spotted her, greeted her, and directed her to my table. She sat down with a huff and I began to get her registered for the week. I made small talk in the meantime, asking where she is originally from and how she heard about IONA. She was far from shy. I learned all about her childhood, her life before retirement. She grew up in Puerto Rico and was raised by her mom who “never wanted to have kids”. Her relationship with her mom seemed complicated. She lived a life of adventure island hopping with her best friend, sneaking into concerts, and experimenting with drugs. She eventually found her way to the Washington Post where she had the opportunity to travel through Africa and meet Nelson Mandela. She was successful in her career and decided to retire early, right before the recession hit.

Soon after the recession her mom passed away, leaving her with a Puerto Rican beach house. The woman decided to sell the house because it was worth so much. Unfortunately, her realtor saw her as a vulnerable elderly woman and stole $100,000 from her. Never married, the woman now lives alone in an apartment in the city. Her old coworkers do not speak to her, her best friend has passed, and she has no family left. She became so lonely that she decided to look into a nursing home. She was told that there would be people her age in the facility. “I was lied to,” she explained, “Everybody was in wheelchairs with drool running down their face. We ate dinner at 4 o’clock and went to bed at 6 o’clock.” The woman fell into a deep depression and had to be medically transported to the hospital for an anxiety attack. She discovered IONA on a whim, and decided to give it a try. With tears in my eyes, I handed the woman a tissue to wipe away her own. I encouraged her that she had found the right place, that she should dive into the activities and meet new people. She looked around, took a breath, and got up to sit at a table with other women around her age.

My experience with this woman made me reflect on the needs of the elderly. It is so important for them to be stimulated and to stay active. So many of the participants at IONA have no family, they live alone or in shelters. For some, their time at IONA is the extent of their social life. My grandmother is 90 years old. She suffers from a multitude of ailments—arthritis, dementia, depression, incontinence, high blood pressure. She has suffered a stroke, had knee replacement, and survived colon cancer. She also lives alone. Granted, she has a caregiver who comes to her house 6 days a week to bathe, feed, and engage her. She is lucky. Her townhouse is a five-minute walk from my house, so she is regularly surrounded by her family. My dad brings her dinner, my mom takes her to doctor’s appointments, and my dog even keeps her company every Tuesday. My family used to take my grandmother to our local senior community center for scheduled activities. She hated nothing more. For somebody so young at heart, it was hard to see people her age struggling. My grandmother takes pride in being independent and her caregiver allows her to be just that.

Unfortunately, this is not all the case for many seniors in our nation. Necessary care is often expensive and not always covered by insurance. Resources are hard to access and many seniors do not have family to support them. Due to reasons such as these, depression is prevalent in seniors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 7 millions of Americans over the age of 65 battle with depression annually, which is not only treatable but also preventable. Furthermore, depression amplifies preexisting conditions like heart disease and diabetes and raises the cost of healthcare. IONA’s works to provide community-based services to facilitate healthy aging and healthy living. Their work is so foundational to the senior community, providing the elderly with numerous resources and services they may not otherwise have access to.

Doreen Yan, Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy

I am a student at the School of International Service and am connecting the credit to my
international development class (SISU-240-004-2017S). I am working with the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy (DOPC) this semester, a non-profit organization that aims to restore the 27-acre Dumbarton Oaks Park in Georgetown. This beautiful and historical park (which serves as a recreational space for D.C. residents), has deteriorated due to lessened management of the park.

A big part of my work with DOPC aims at mitigating the presence of invasive plants,
which have taken over much of the natural landscape and threatens the park’s bio-diversity. Through helping DOPC run volunteer events such as weed warrior trainings, I have learned to distinguish invasive plants from native plants in the park and how to effectively and manually remove invasive species. The organization helped me meet my expectations by showing me the parts of the park that are in need of restoration efforts and giving me hands-on work in the park. It really is a rewarding experience to work directly with the landscape and see the changes being made with the removal of invasive plants.

Unfortunately, that is the only volunteer work I have done so far. In the upcoming weeks, however, I will be helping DOPC run their Spring camp week as well as their after-school program. DOPC arranges various programs with D.C. Public Schools to help educate children on nature preservation through the activities they do in the park. The volunteer work I will do with DOPC includes: assisting with camp week, organizing activities and providing environmental education to DCPS students, and looking after the safety of kids during their time in the park. Working with children is something I am comfortable with and have experience in, therefore I believe I can benefit a lot from the future volunteer work I will do with DOPC.

With climate change being a major problem that destroys our Earth’s landscapes, it is more important than ever to learn ways to effectively restore and sustain bio-diversity. Connecting this to my SISU-240 course, climate change is the greatest threat to the continuance of international development for poor countries because they are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Regionally and internationally, the impacts of climate change are not felt evenly. Poorer countries do not have the resources to counter or adapt to climate change, as a result, they are most at risk of losing important aspects of their livelihood, such as food security.

The U.S. is a developed nation that has the responsibly of mitigating the climate change that harms our Earth’s natural landscapes and populations. Through volunteering with DOPC, I have gained awareness of the deterioration of landscapes that’s happening right behind our school’s campus. I have greater knowledge on invasive plants, and how to remove them so our landscapes can better flourish in their environment. Volunteering for organizations such as DOPC provides the world with the environmental sustainability needed during a time where climate change is intensifying.

Genna Hewett-Abbott, Iona Senior Services

For the last several months I have been volunteering at Iona Senior Services as part of AU’s Community Service-Learning Program. As a Public Health major, I love volunteering in the community with underserved populations. Working at Iona has exposed me to a wide range of different cultures and backgrounds. I have learned words in several different languages, different national holidays, music and dance routines from a diverse set of cultures. Iona celebrates the differences between its participants and works to ensure everyone feels heard and valued.

As a volunteer at the St. Albans location I help set up for daily activities such as group exercises, small concerts and dance performances and bingo with students from the nearby elementary school. I also prepare and serve lunch and interact with participants by listening to their stories and explaining some technology. I also serve in the Tenleytown location on the weekends by preparing meals to be delivered to seniors who cannot cook meals and during the week in the financial office.

I have previously worked at Iona and jumped at the opportunity to return. The different employees, participants, and other volunteers are all such kind and welcoming people. We all have widely diverse backgrounds and I enjoy comparing our different experiences and thoughts.  Participants jumped at the chance to explain their heritage. One woman explained a Romanian holiday that celebrates grandmothers; another explained how she fled from Germany in 1939 from Hitler as a Jewish child. I value hearing their stories especially as I tied my CSLP service to my multicultural health class. Learning about different cultures both in class and through my experiences at Iona I feel that I am receiving a well-rounded education.

I have been surprised at how useful I have been. Setting up tables and chairs, serving lunch common and helping participant sign in every day seem like small tasks that don’t serve a purpose; however, with a small staff and a large group of participants the smallest job can make a huge impact on the day-to-day activities. I am also surprised at how quickly I’ve formed relationships with the staff, volunteers, and participants. Spending time with the different people at Iona has forged incredible relationships and created lasting memories that all tie in to what I am learning in class. I feel very lucky two have been able to serve at Iona for the last few months. I can only hope that I have touch the lives of those who have touched mine during my experiences at Iona.

Madison Chapman, Horace Mann Elementary School

I am so excited to share my first experiences as a teacher in a classroom setting with you all. From a very young age I’ve always known one thing about myself to be true. I am an extremely passionate person. When I love something I am not shy about it. Two things I am passionate about are the Performing Arts and Education. Therefore, being a double major in Musical Theatre and Performing Arts Education is nothing short of the perfect fit. I am a sophomore completing my Community Service Learning Project (CSLP) in conjunction with my Reading, Writing, and Literature Across Curriculums class at Horace Mann Elementary School in Washington, D.C. I am serving as the Teaching Assistant in the Performing Arts classes, and Assistant Director and Choreographer of their spring musical. I work at Horace Mann two to three days a week for about six hours each week. I am truly enjoying my time at my service site. I am finding new connections to both of my majors each day, while also learning about social issues that can affect classroom climate.

Horace Mann Elementary School’s Mission Statement states, “Horace Mann Elementary School is a lively place of learning where curiosity and connection are celebrated.  With our diverse, multi-national population, we are both a global and close community of learners. We embrace academic choice and responsive teaching. Our recently renovated and expanded campus, which features a rooftop farm, arts classrooms, and an expansive outside playscape, invites us to learn within and beyond our school walls. Serious about our students’ academic growth, we also believe that a school community must be a place of joy and celebration.” I find this mission statement to be completely accurate to the work I am seeing from the teachers and the students at the school. Student choice is evident in multiple forms, evoking the celebrating of curiosity described above. Diversity is a value I cherish dearly and to see it in action is something very special. Additionally, the musical is specifically focused on the Women’s Suffrage Movement, in which the students are learning the importance of standing up for what you believe in and self-advocacy.

Going into my site for the first time was a day filled with mixed emotions. My first reaction was nerves. I began to feel those butterflies in my stomach, as I do before I perform for an audience. And that’s when it clicked for me. There is such a strong intersectionality between my two fields. Teaching is essentially performing for your students each day. You show them your feelings, your thoughts, your needs, and your wants, just as an actor does onstage. With this in mind, my nerves began to ease up. In addition, my mentor teacher was nothing but welcoming and thankful to have me there. I slowly began to feel more comfortable. The students walked in eager to learn and excited to see a new face in the room. I was impressed with the focus and respect they displayed towards my mentor teacher. Her kindness and approachability created a feeling of comfort throughout the room. I loved watching her interactions with the students, and their eagerness to work on the musical they will performing in May. I was expecting to complete many organizational tasks and serve purely as an assistant. However, my mentor teacher immediately began to delegate important tasks to me. I am working side by side with her and really getting hands on experience as a performing arts educator.

The amount of connections I have been able to find between my work at Horace Mann, my Reading and Writing class, and my acting experience is outstanding. Something that we are really focusing on in Reading and Writing is the importance of the talk move, wait time. Allowing students ample time after asking a question to process and think of a response is essential. A common mistake for new teachers is to immediately call on the first person that raises their hand. Teachers often do this because they want the reassurance that someone is understanding the lesson. However, by employing wait time you give more students the opportunity to process and in return will have more participants to choose from. While it may sound like a basic concept, it is a lot harder than one might think. I borrowed the strategy of my Reading and Writing teacher in which she sings “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in her head after asking a question before calling on someone. I’m not going to lie, it is a little awkward. But, I immediately saw the benefits of this strategy. If I had not used wait time I would only have a few students to choose from to call on. Instead, I had many. It was such a confidence booster. The students were actually thinking about the concepts I was teaching them and had thoughts they wanted to share with the class. What a feeling.

Also, oral language strategies such as Turn and Talk have been a staple in the performing arts classes. As I am learning in my Reading and Writing class, getting students to vocalize their own thoughts, and listen to the thoughts of others, is essential to language development. I have been given the opportunity to teach a few mini lessons at my site school. I have done my best to structure them as actual lesson plans in which I present information with examples of application, allow students to ask question, give them a chance to get on their feet and apply the concepts, and check for understanding before moving on. I have loved seeing how music can change a students’ behavior. Some students who really struggle with focus will all of the sudden become model students when music becomes part of the equation. Recognizing how students learn is essential to differentiation.

I think the biggest take away I am getting from my time at Horace Mann is the importance of classroom climate, a topic we have discussed in great depth in Reading and Writing. Without a strong and well-developed classroom climate, meaningful learning and student happiness is out of the question. When my mentor teacher assigned the roles for the musical, many students were disappointed with the size of their roles.  What was truly amazing was seeing how my mentor teacher into damage control mode at the drop of the hat. She was very attuned to the emotions and feelings of the students, even the ones that were not vocalizing their disappointment. This is a result of truly knowing her students, a concept we have been discussing a lot in my Psychology of Education and Reading and Writing class. Knowing your students is essential in creating a positive classroom climate. The way she explained to each student their importance to the show was heart-warming, and seeing smiles come back onto their faces was comforting.

I am so thankful for my time at Horace Mann and for CSLP’s support and guidance through the process.

Nicole Alzapiedi, D.C. Reads

My name is Nicole and I am studying International Relations. My community service project is for my International Development gateway course and I am working for D.C. Reads. At my location I have been tutoring second and third grade students specifically. The afternoon normally starts with reading or math homework, and the tutors provide any help they may need. After they have completed their homework we often go outside. This a time for the kids to unwind and hang out with all of us while playing games and running around.

Going into this program I was looking to gain more experience working with underprivileged kids and helping them improve in whatever areas they needed it. I have always loved working with kids, especially in a school setting, and this was an opportunity for me to grow in my ability to help kids that might struggle a bit more. So far, we have done less one-on-one work than I expected, but I really like that I get to help a variety of kids. Some days I get kids that really struggle with their math and we walk through all of the steps, and other days I have kids that just need reassurance they are doing something right. No matter what though, I have come to realize that I am always helping the students in that classroom and I can see that they gain confidence when we tell them that they are doing a good job.

I was surprised initially by the range in performance level that the kids are at. In a classroom with kids that are within about two years of one another, there is a great variance in what these kids understand when it comes to schoolwork. I went to public school in a middle class town in Massachusetts that did a really good job of keeping kids on track to graduation and helping those who needed it with one-on-one time. Working at this school in Washington D.C. has certainly opened my eyes to the wide range in public schools that can be found around the country. This has only strengthened my passion towards improving education in the United States and around the world because children are clearly being left behind.

I am pairing this program with my International Development gateway and although we have not talked a lot about education development yet, I can see some connections based on what we have learned. We watched a documentary in class that focused on Ladakh, India, which is a community that has been greatly affected by the Development Project. This includes their education system and the fact that the United States enforced its westernized education system on this community. This was an interesting connection to D.C. Reads because I am seeing firsthand how the U.S. education system isn’t even close to helping all of its own students and yet it’s imposing the same system on completely different cultures. The United States needs to work on improving its own education system rather than trying to change other countries.

My biggest takeaway so far is that every student in a classroom is different, and as such we need to treat them that way. Showing a struggling child that you are willing to work with them and that you want them to succeed can make a world of difference. I have learned a lot about teaching kids and working through problems with them and I hope to be able to use that in my career.

Dana Piccirillo, Horton’s Kids

This semester, I hoped to continue stepping out of my comfort zone and go beyond what I previously knew about serving. I looked forward to meeting new people from different backgrounds and creating unique bonds with them. I also looked forward to learning about a new culture while contributing my hard work to projects that would help the community. By focusing my energy on people who could use some help, I will continue to let myself surpass the bubble, becoming less materialistic, and concentrating on more important things.

While working at Horton’s Kids, I have definitely learned a lot about the kids of Anacostia as well as myself. As a Homework Helper, any of the kids that have homework to do can come sit with me, asking me any questions that they may have, or, if they have already completed their homework, they can read a book (or have me read it to them). I also work in their office on Fridays, completing communications and social media related tasks. Although I have never had a terrible experience, and have been proud of every student I have worked with at Homework Help, I have learned that the challenges of volunteering do not always end in hugs and goodbyes. Although some do, not every student makes you feel like you’re a super hero. One student that I tutored was extremely friendly and funny upon arrival; I asked him about his day before working, and after talking for a bit, he was ready to get to work. As we started, it almost seemed as if the work he was assigned to do was a bit more advanced than what he was capable of doing. One of the assignments he was required to complete involved him reading and answering questions about a specific passage. He not only had trouble reading the passage, but he also had trouble writing certain letters. That being said, forming a sentence was a very long, tedious process. I was extremely frustrated by this. I immediately wondered- why would the teachers assign him this homework if he didn’t know how to do it? After having to wake him up and consistently motivating him to finish, I realized how much trouble he would have had if he were to do the homework without another person there. After what felt like hours, he finally finished the packet, and I was so proud of him. We high-fived, he got his snack (a reward for attending homework help sessions), and said a quick goodbye. From this experience, I learned that it is crucial to think about the child’s home environment, and the reasons behind their actions. The kids at Horton’s Kids need extra care and attention, and if I feel tired or helpless, I simply need to remind myself that these kids go through an entire 8-hour day before coming to Homework Help. I now realize that there are many reasons the child was falling asleep while doing homework. Maybe, there is something going on at home, or maybe, he was frustrated with himself because he was already behind on his learning and writing skills. While I will never know, I now understand the importance of keeping the lives of others in mind while volunteering, and putting my feelings after the feelings of the student that I am trying to help.

As for my expectations, I have been pleasantly surprised about my volunteer experience. I have met so many amazing, like-minded people that I hope to stay in touch with. I have also formed relationships with the kids that I see every Wednesday, and look forward to helping them every week. Something that surprised me the most was probably the welcoming that I received from most of the kids involved in the Homework Help program. I feared that they would resent me- I thought that me being there would seem as if I think I am better than them, and that I am trying to “save them” from their reality. However, I didn’t get this feeling at all, and the kids were all so sweet and friendly to me when I first arrived. This also connects to my class because we have stressed the importance of not going into service with the intention of changing someone’s life or “saving them.” This would defeat the entire purpose of serving, and I have definitely seen the importance in doing my service for the simple purpose of helping others, rather than doing it for my own self interest. I have enjoyed my service greatly thus far, and I look forward to volunteering with Horton’s Kids in the future!

Kayla Gangemi, Dance Exchange

Healthy communities make change possible. My name is Kayla, I’m in my Junior year of the Public Health program and this semester I am volunteering at the non-profit organization Dance Exchange located in Takoma Park, Maryland. This is my second time participating in the Community Service-Learning Program, which has allowed me to explore my academic and professional interests through getting to know some amazing organizations, and people that make up the community here in the DC Metro area. This semester, I chose to connect the work that I am doing at Dance Exchange with the Introduction to Public Health course I am currently taking. At first, the relation between this organization and Public Health was not obvious, but after studying abroad in Ecuador, the value of community and identity to health has not intrigued me more. At Dance Exchange, the majority of my work has been assisting with Space Stewardship and Marketing. Cleaning the studios and tacking flyers around the neighborhood may seem like arbitrary work, but through assisting team members at Dance Exchange, I am experiencing some of the ways in which a non-profit organization functions. Right now, I am very excited for a specific project Dance Exchange has asked me to help facilitate next month. During April, Dance Exchange will be partnering with Brookside Gardens Nature Center in Silver Spring, Maryland to bring together science education and movement. During this time, I hope to learn more about how dance and understanding of ourselves within the environment can work hand in hand.

I chose to work with Dance Exchange for the Community Service-Learning Program this semester, not only because I rediscovered a love for dance again – in the same way that I enjoy community service – but also because this program lets me support an innovative organization with holistic values, and a drive to make change. Over the course of the past couple of months, I have learned that the local Dance Exchange is a non-discriminating space for people to come to together and practice diverse forms of dance from an array of backgrounds. Beyond locally, Dance Exchange finds itself in different settings around the country, embodying the ways in which place and community co-exist. Thinking about the context of health that most people here in the United States are familiar with; hospitals, dieting and health insurance may be some of the major features that come to mind. In my opinion, two of the most interesting and relevant topics that I have learned about in Introduction to Public Health are the social determinants of health as well as loneliness. These topics have prompted me to think in-depth about the ways in which factors like neighborhood, education and sense-of-self contribute to condition of population health. In these explorations, the importance of alternative approaches to public health – such as through community gardening, arts for social change, and educational programming – becomes increasingly apparent. I believe that these outlets have the potential to alleviate great public health burdens such as depression, malnutrition, sedentary lifestyles and hate. Although community service is one way that I do my part, I also value service for the exchanged reminder that I am part of a whole. I feel like with this peace of mind it is nearly impossible to ignore the ways in which health is influenced by a multitude of factors.

Laurel Clark, Dumbarton Oaks Conservancy

My name is Laurel Clark and I am double major in Environmental Studies and Public Relations and Strategic Communication. The volunteer work that I am doing at the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy with the after-school environmental education program is connected to my Environmental Science class (ENVS-260-003). My role as a volunteer is to aid Alisha Camacho with her lesson plans and activities.

Recently we had the students draw two pictures of an area in Washington D.C., such as the Potomac River, one picture including natural resources such as trees and large bodies of water and another absent of all natural resources. This activity encourages conversation about the importance of our environment and what feelings are prompted when those areas become desolate, which the students have realized is becoming a reality that they must not only face, but also figure out how to change through innovative solutions.

Often times, the activities are discussion based so the students can share their ideas and engage in meaningful conversations that teach them about the importance of perspective and respect for ideas that may diverge from their own. I expected to meet a group of children who had a basic understanding of their fragile and endangered environment. I also expected to further my own teaching skills. Not only have the students shown me that they are connected to their environment; they have shown me in subtle ways—whether through short conversations I overhear or comments aimed directly at me—that they recognize and appreciate the intricate relationship between the natural environment and the strength of their communities.

I have learned how to teach and plan an effective lesson that puts forth the idea that we may not know how important our environmental resources are until they are gone, as well as how to listen. My lesson plan was centered on the vitality of community gardens and the constant threat they are under, especially when the land is not protected by the state. The students then began talking amongst themselves asking why people wanted to replace a garden with warehouses as the garden provided the community with food and a sense of purpose. They not only questioned why the land wasn’t seen as valuable by developers, but also what could be done to stop this land removal from happening in the future. They then drew their own perfect parks and worked on including the benefits they believe to be integral to any open green space. Before this happened, a debate took place between one student and three others, the one student believed that TV’s may have a place in the park because it could help people stay informed as they would have easy access to the news. The other students challenged him and maintained that the TV would distract visitors from their surroundings and would decrease the amount of time they spent interacting with and enjoying the natural world. It is these conversations that the students have, the ones about clean water and the right to trees, and the debates they have over what makes a community strong that gives me faith that the coming generation will be able to conjure up a solution to the growing problems presented by climate change.

This volunteer work relates directly back to my class in many ways. One of the units we focused on was water pollution, which was a theme discussed in one of the lessons when the students were tasked with figuring out how water becomes polluted and what measures need to be taken to clean that water. The biggest takeaway that I have is that education is truly the means by which we will be able to recognize the mistakes we have made, the harm we have done to our environment and, by extension, to each other, and move forward with bright new ideas in hand and a troop of leaders and followers in tow.

Anisa Shafiq, Kid Power

When I tell people I’m focusing on education studies, (it won’t be on my degree, but I’ve taken a lot of classes in the field!) the first response I usually get is, “Oh wow – so do you want to be a teacher?” As a senior at AU who is actually majoring in Sociology and is expected to be a teacher, I have surprisingly never worked with children. Kid Power is a non-profit whose mission is to promote academic advancement, physical and emotional wellness, and positive civic engagement in under-served communities throughout the District of Columbia. I am helping them achieve this at Jefferson Middle School by helping run an after school program for three hours twice a week.

During the program, we reserve thirty minutes for socialization, an hour for homework, typically thirty to forty-five minutes for a group activity, and the remainder of the time is spent on the playground. When I first started volunteering with Kid Power, my sole motivation was to use it purely as a line for my resume. After graduation, I intend to serve with the Peace Corps as an educator abroad (does that make the answer to people’s question yes?), and I have been told by recruiters that volunteering/mentoring “inner city” students would make me a competitive applicant.

However, now after completing almost two months of service I feel like the kids are teaching me more than I am teaching them. I used to dread making the trek down to L’Enfant Plaza twice a week. It was pretty brutal – but now as the kids make me feel like they actually look forward to me being there, I leave school every day feeling fulfilled. Don’t get me wrong – there are hard days (and I mean really hard days) – on these days the kids are disrespectful, obnoxious, and sometimes just plain mean. But on the good days, I can sit with a student for forty-five minutes, and help them finish their homework, and be greeted at the end of it with a big “thank you”.

Feeling like I’ve gotten through to one student each day I am there is worth the long trip and time out of my busy schedule.  The class that I am completing this Community Service Learning Program (CSLP) is Urban Lives, and I can draw many parallels between my course material and the work that I am doing at Jefferson. I notice a difference in the way the that the students interact with me versus my site coordinator, who is an employee of Kid Power. This is the central question of ethnography that I am completing for my course. I really was not sure what to expect when I started this semester at Jefferson Middle School. I think that I have a lot to learn, and a lot of growing to do, but I am looking forward to finishing up the semester with these students, saying good bye to some of them at the end of this school term, welcoming a new batch of incoming students, and working with Kid Power for quite some time.

Julia Burnell, FAIR Girls

My name is Julia Burnell and I am a first year public health major. This semester, I’m volunteering at an organization called FAIR Girls. FAIR Girls is a non-profit that works with girls worldwide to prevent exploitation by educating and empowering them, as well as by helping victims get back on their feet. One service that FAIR Girls offers is a home, called the Vida Home, for girls who are in between safe places to live and thrive. Homeless women are especially susceptible to exploitation, so by providing them with a safe place to live while transitioning, FAIR Girls is meeting an essential need for these women.

I volunteer at the Vida Home and it is an incredibly rewarding experience. My service allows me to see firsthand the progress that clients are making as they work to reach their goals. Prior to beginning this work, I had not had any experience working with trauma victims and didn’t really have any idea of what that would be like. I feel like it’s easy to oversimplify this kind of situation, to break it into the “before” and “after” of an unsafe situation.  Escaping an abuser doesn’t mean that someone is immediately okay, and that is okay. That’s why I think the services that FAIR Girls offers are so important. They help girls work through their “after” so they are better equipped to have the kind of life they want and deserve.

As in any endeavor, I have high points and low points as a volunteer. While I enjoy that I have a decent amount of responsibility in my position, it can be stressful because I worry about doing things wrong or handling situations poorly. Also, it can be emotionally challenging at times because many of the clients are close in age to me. However, I do feel like my age sometimes makes clients feel more comfortable talking to me. It definitively gives me a sense of my privilege when I think about how different my childhood and life has been from theirs, all due to factors outside of either of our control. At the end of the day, it is so inspiring to see the clients reach their goals, whether that is something tangible like getting a job, or more emotional, like coming to terms with a past event. These girls have overcome so much and it’s beautiful to watch them continue to strive to reach more of their goals.

Every day is different, but each time I volunteer I feel like I’ve helped someone. This hasn’t been the case with all my volunteer experiences. While I understand that volunteering is not about me but instead is about giving an organization what it needs, it is nice to enjoy what I do. By getting to interact with the clients on a personal level, I’ve gained knowledge that I simply would not have if I were working in a more administrative role. I’ve attached this credit to my Issues in Women’s Health class and it has enhanced my learning because human trafficking and abuse are not subjects we have covered, so this project has allowed me to get a broader sense of these issues than I otherwise would have.

Carl Amritt, The Roosevelt Institute

The defining quality of a leader is that instead of focusing on doing things right, they focus on doing the right things. The “right things” are matters both moral and ethical in nature where leaders have to make judgments in situations in order for the group to successful. In SPA 396: Leaders and Leadership, we understand leaders as having to face dilemmas that require choices between competing sets of values and priorities that makes doing the right thing incredibly difficult. In my own service work, I have realized this process of decision-making requires an immense amount of courage and willpower to do what is right even when the answer is plain in sight.

In working with the Roosevelt Institute, I have been completing my service work with Floridians for a Fair Democracy, a statewide coalition, spearheading a ballot initiative to amend Florida’s Constitution to repeal the Jim Crow-era policy that bars Floridians with a felony conviction from the polls. Florida is only one-of-four states in the country with a lifetime ban on voting upon conviction of a felony. No wonder then, that Florida is the state in the country with the largest concentration of former felons who are unable to vote— totaling to be more than 1.6 million.

Before I began working with the coalition, the solution appeared simple. If a convict has completed the terms of their sentence and paid their debt to society, they should have their voting rights restored. However, this issue turned out to be more nuanced than one would expect. After speaking with elected officials and community organizations across the state, it became increasingly apparent that the right to vote is a politically complicated matter where notions of personal prejudices having got in the way of what is ethically or morally right. In the process, the vote itself has been politicized leading to the disenfranchisement of millions of hardworking, tax-paying citizens. These conflicting personal prejudices have caused partisanship in the Florida legislature and has stalled all attempts to pass a bill for the restoration of voting rights.

As a community organizer for Floridians for a Fair Democracy, I have been working on a referendum that aims to shift the decision-making power from the gridlocked legislature to the voters. In a dysfunctional political system, ballot referendums allow for engagement in direct democracy and places the power back into the hands of the constituents. In my role, I have worked to build out the engagement strategy of the initiative and broaden its presence to 9 different college and universities across the state. We have been organizing to place our amendment on the 2018 General Election ballot. In October, we were successful in collecting the 76,632 petitions necessary to trigger a legal review by Florida’s Attorney General and Florida Supreme Court. If approved, we will have until the General Election to collect 766,200 (eight percent of turnout from the previous presidential election) necessary to place it on the ballot. The last several months we have worked to developed a set of organizing tools including a fact sheet, info-graphic, and a set of talking points to assist other college organizers to collect petitions and raise awareness about the issue on their college campus.

In both my course and service work, I have encountered one of the most common ethical dilemmas that leaders from all fields face. Theorist Rushworth Kidder identifies this as being an ethical dilemma of Justice versus Mercy that is common to our experiences of leadership. Kidder explains that this paradigm guides our decision-making as to whether to excuse a person’s misbehavior because of the extenuating circumstances that drove them to commit a wrong. What I have learned from my service work is that once someone commits a wrong and pays restitution to society, they have showed they are deserving of a second chance and mercy. Being able to forgive, learn, and move on are key qualities of leadership that constitutes our ethics and morals. In my own work, I have learned the importance of understanding the reasons that lead to “criminal” behavior from a holistic point of view and understand the societal driving factors at play. By understanding these factors, we can begin the process of forgiveness and allow our citizens reintegrate back into society and move from past our personal prejudices.

In short, we have to hold leaders accountable for their actions and inaction on policies that stand to unite us civically as a nation. We must expect nothing short of courageous in times of difficulty and controversy and hope they will do what is right and not what is politically convenient. It is only then we can end felon disenfranchisement in Florida and restore the voting rights to millions. Until then, we have a lot of work to do.

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Carl Amritt is a Political Science student pursuing a Masters in Public Administration in the School of Public Affairs at American University. Carl is enrolled in Dr. Paul Christopher Manuel’s SPA 396: Leaders and Leadership course that aims to understand some of the main concerns of leadership studies including civic virtue, politics, and freedom in relation to public affairs. To learn more about Carl’s work, visit: http://rooseveltinstitute.org/rights-restoration/

Stephanie Lopez, CentroNía

Prior to my service learning experience this semester, I always had a cynical view on service learning thinking it did not create a lot of positive results. I assumed that because the service time was being condensed to a semester and graded, that the participants were more interested in looking good and getting A’s rather than the actually service. However, once I began having discussions with other students on service learning in my writing course called, Rewriting the Starfish Story, my mindset began changing. The discussions we held in class made me rethink what I thought service learning could be and I refocused my attention towards finding my place in service. I began seeing that everyone had different ideas and strengths when it came to service and what they wanted in return. Thus, my goal when serving has become to create a reciprocal process for myself and those I served.

Working at CentroNía has been a tough and incredibly enjoyable experience. As tutor to three students, I have been surprised about how much I love working with kids and how exhausting they can be. My expectations when I started working for CentroNía was that it would be easy and that the students would appreciate my work daily. But that is not true at all. Hence, the most important things I have learned so far are patience and persistence. Every time one of my students is too tired or not in the mood to do work, I have to remember that they have just come for 8 hours of school and are probably more tired than me. Also, I have learned how to connect the games we play to lessons; for example, if they need a break we play hang-man but I make sure the they use their vocabulary words so they can practice.

Additionally, I have learned to be realistic with my students and myself. In beginning, I wanted to be everything for my students and help them outside of just tutoring. However, I quickly learned that I could not be all those things. As a busy college student and not having a lot experience mentoring, I quickly had a reality check that I should not do more than I could keep up with. Also, not all students needed or wanted that from me. I assumed that they would want me to part of their lives outside of CentroNía but that was me being selfish and having a savior complex. Thus, I have learned that being honest and realistic is key to make sure that the students and I are always on the same page so no one is let down. Furthermore, making an honest plan on what you can accomplish with service learning can help make things easier to manage and have positive results instead of letting things fall apart.

Another place I have been serving is Thrive DC. I have no previous experience working with the homeless community or adults and going in I was very nervous. But my nerves and questions about working with homeless women ended on my first day. Working with Thrive DC as given me the opportunity to learn about a community that has a lot of harmful misconceptions from the public. My role at Thrive is to keep the women who come for dinner company, and this has given me the opportunity to learn about their stories and how homelessness cannot be fit into one box. The women all have different backgrounds with some being college graduates, workers in low earning jobs, and others addicts. Some of them still have homes but just want company in a safe place and others see this an escape from the streets. Also, almost all of them are open and kind and want someone to talk to. Thus, serving for Thrive has helped me see the reciprocal process discussed in my writing class because while the women have me to talk to, I have been given the privilege to learn from them homeless and living in DC.

Has I continue my service learning with CentroNía and Thrive DC I have become more conscious about my role as a volunteer and what I can do for those I serve. My cynical view of service learning has been eliminated because I have encountered amazing changes from the students and women I serve weekly. From my students actually being happy to see me and understanding the lessons who are doing to the women being more open to talk about their experiences. Also, I have seen myself change, I have become more open minded and patience because I know those I serve need that from me. I very happy to continue this work and I know it can only get better.

Jasnaaz Tung, Humanwire

News outlets throughout the world have a lot to say about Syrian refugees; they’re flooding into Europe, the sheer numbers are overwhelming, and they might be harboring extremists. We might see flashing numbers about how many people have left Syria, how many are accepted into Germany, and what the economic burden is for the UK; but, we never talk about how every single refugee is first and foremost another human being. Each displaced person has been forced to abandon their lives for the sake of survival.

I currently work for an organization trying to humanize refugees for the general public. Ultimately, telling their stories helps motivate the browsers to acknowledge the quality of life for the average refugee and hopefully donate what they can to help those less fortunate. Humanwire was founded by Andre Baron in response to the growing displacement of Syrians and the lacking response by the international community. Humanwire accepts refugee applications from countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Cameroon, and more. Then, thorough background checks to validate the identities, stories, and connections of the applicants so that everyone involved has never been involved in the persecution of others. After this extensive process, online profiles are created to provide a brief description of their circumstances and indicate readiness for sponsorship. This is the step of the process in which I work with Humanwire. Sponsorship is the final step in which a browser can select a refugee and launch a campaign to crowdsource money to alleviate the hardships faced by these people. The truly unique thing about Humanwire is that they offer the facilities to watch your donations translate into critical aid for other people. You can send one-on-one items to someone you wish to support and receive photographic proof. None of the aide provided benefits Humanwire in any way.

In this process, I play a very small part. As a volunteer, I have the privilege to synthesize the profile description of each applicant from information translated by on-the-ground volunteers. Thus far I have been able to work on two profiles of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. It has surprised me that their concerns aren’t far off from those of any other person. One of the profiles I wrote up was about a mother who just wanted to pay rent and the fees to continue the education of her three kids. Another mother was concerned about the debt her family has already accrued in Lebanon. These women braved volatile borders to flee ISIS violence or state sponsored massacres and they just want to return to normalcy for their children. In a world landscape focused on painting their journey as an extremist Trojan Horse, Humanwire helps normalize the people by telling their stories. This experience has been an add on to my course in Migration and Development with Professor Tazreena Sajjad of SIS within American University. While the course covers the expanse of forced and voluntary migrants, it also takes into account the current rhetoric around migrants— especially refugees. A couple of our lectures have dealt directly with the difference between the reality of the current refugee crises and these lectures have been definitely enriched with the addition of my Humanwire experience. As an SIS student, I have found that too often the academic rarely connects with the reality but this community service based experience with Humanwire has truly bridged this gap for me.

Sabrina Lynne, Rooting DC

 

About a month ago, I had the pleasure of volunteering at Rooting DC. Unsure of what to expect, I arrived at 8:30 and made my way to the volunteer check in. There I met Brittany Stewart, volunteer coordinator for Rooting DC and my point person for CSLP. She signed me in and I headed up front to help check in attendees. I spent the first half of the day, from 8:30 to 12:30, greeting people from all over the DMV and the greater mid-Atlantic. I was pleased to see such a diverse group of people attending the event! The crowd was composed of people with diverse economic, racial, educational, and professional backgrounds. I was particularly excited to see such a wide range of age among the attendees. Families with small children, college students, young professionals, and senior citizens all flocked to Woodrow Wilson High School that morning to explore our local sustainable agriculture movement.

Once I finished checking people in, I took a short lunch break and perused the many tables set up in the atrium of Woodrow Wilson High School. I stopped by the Love and Carrots table to visit the people I worked with over the summer, learned about Compost Cab (the convenient compost service for busy city dwellers), and spent some time at the DC Food Policy Council stand. I was struck by the tight-knit feeling of the local sustainable agriculture community here in DC. It seemed like everyone knew each other and was happy and eager to learn from one another. As lunch drew to a close, I was tasked with helping presenters set up their rooms and take attendance. Fortunately I was able to attend some workshops myself. The first workshop I went to was the one that stuck out to me most. It was comprised of seven short presentations from a variety of community members. I was especially struck by the presentation given by two men who run Dix Street Garden, and the Dix Street Garden slogan “Turning Hustlers into Harvesters.” They told the story of how Dix Street Garden came to be, detailing the struggle they had with the city to acquire the abandoned land, and taking us through the process of how their marginalized community used their agency to reclaim space. One of the men told us that he was a returning citizen and said that he likely would have ended up back in jail had it not been for this project. The story of the Dix Street Garden reminded me of our class discussions about land tenure, private property, and the value of communal living. I am eager to learn more about the impact of community garden projects in DC, particularly those in DC’s marginalized communities. Urban agriculture appears to be growing throughout the city, and it has the potential to positively impact areas that are food insecure. That being said, I am curious as to how urban farms function differently when they are imposed from an external group, such as Love and Carrots, compared to projects that emerge from the grassroots of a community, e.g. Dix Street Garden.

Volunteering for DC Greens at Rooting DC was a truly immersive experience that helped my link many of the concepts discussed in our Political Ecology of Food and Agriculture class together. It gave me the opportunity to meet people from all over the region who are engaging with sustainable agriculture, and it opened my eyes to the bounty of work that needs to be done. From composting to labor policy, Rooting DC displayed the robust community that is working towards a more just and delicious food system! In the next few weeks I am very much looking forward to working with DC Greens at the K Street farm and getting my hands in the soil.

Jeta Luboteni, We Are Family

My name is Jeta Luboteni and I am a senior majoring in International Relations and minoring in Sociology. The class that I am connecting my volunteering to is SOCY-553: Intersectionality. I am volunteering with We Are Family, which delivers groceries to low income seniors in Columbia Heights and all over DC. This organization has only 2 full time staff, Co-Directors Mark Andersen and Tulin Ozdeger, so it relies on volunteers to deliver the food via car or foot to the seniors that need it. Every month, volunteers meet in the Kelsey Apartments in Columbia Heights and assemble in groups to go around the city and take grocery bags or boxes to the homes of seniors.

Before starting this project, I had volunteered with this site before. I particularly liked it because of its commitment to doing its part to alleviate the effects of gentrification. It is also very nice to interact with longtime DC residents and hear their stories. Along with delivering groceries, the organization does advocacy work for the residents, depending on their situations. In the class with which I am connecting my service, we study how oppressions intersect and multiply. One way We Are Family (WAF) addresses this is by being committed to fighting all forms of oppression and their unique manifestations. For example, Racism, Classism, Sexism, Ageism, etc. They serve residents of all sorts of ethnic backgrounds and have volunteers who speak Spanish to make services more accessible to the Spanish-speaking residents.

Another way WAF addresses intersectionality is by emphasizing the history of the residents and the city. Every time the volunteers assemble to unload the truck, Mark explains why the volunteers are important and why the seniors are in this situation. He explains the historical factors contributing to the situation, as well as what the seniors have been through in that area (the riots after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the drug war, etc.) He explains that the economic situation is not the fault of the seniors, and it is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is something that needs to be addressed, and everyone should try to do what they can. It was not necessarily a surprise, but it is nevertheless important to note that many of the seniors are former government workers or had good jobs. But the price of living in that area is just unattainable, so they require assistance.

Besides volunteering, there is more that we can do. We can be mindful of where we choose to live, so that we do not contribute to kicking people out of their homes. We can contact and pressure local governments to limit policies that gentrify. And we can talk to our friends and make sure that they know what is going on in the District, and in cities all over the United States. No one deserves to lose their home simply because they retired. We Are Family also stresses the importance of community, so volunteering there is an important way of showing that. Living in Washington, D.C. should be a chance to show solidarity with the residents, especially those who have been living here for so long and are now at risk of losing their homes due to wealthy millennials seeing their properties as desirable.

German Figueroa, Reading Partners

My name is German Figueroa and I am a sophomore studying Psychology at American University. For the last couple of weeks, I have had the privilege to take part in a critical thinking community-based learning program. The program allows me to spend time off campus working with a non-profit where I can apply skills that I am learning in the classroom to my community work. I am part of the CAS Leadership and Ethical Development program, where I am currently enrolled in a leadership discussion based course. Utilizing the tools and skills acquired in this course, I have linked this seminar to community work with a non-profit called Reading Partners.

The seminar teaches us to look at the places that are commonly neglected and find where leadership is needed. Some of the things I learned were shocking; for example, only 26% of kids in the 3rd grade were on track for the next grade level regarding reading proficiency. Studies show “Only four in 10 D.C. third-graders are proficient readers.” Why is this important? Only because these results have shown a huge correlation with 3rd-grade reading proficiency can be a predictor of the kid’s future academic success. For example, 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th-grade will end up in jail or on welfare.

The leadership program encourages my peers and I to find places where there is a lack of leadership and to become involved. The problem is that by the end of 3rd grade some of our kids are being set up to fail. I joined Reading Partners through DC Reads as a Team-Leader, where I am in charge of training and supporting American University students who are giving an extra hand to public school teachers from underprivileged communities by tutoring kids that need extra assistance with literacy.

This opportunity has allowed me to figure out what my role is and what professional interests I see myself pursuing after I graduate from American University. I would like to teach for an elementary or middle school, as I feel that is a crucial time where kids are most impacted from the environment around them, and I want to become a part of positively shaping their minds. That age is a huge determining factor, and I think that with my background and interpersonal skills that I can bring a lot to the table. I am going to begin to look more into projects like Teach for America, to figure out where I best fit.

Nicholas Kram Mendelsohn, TamalFest

This semester I volunteered with several groups throughout the Washington D.C. metro area, and was exposed to a variety of different NGO-related volunteer opportunities.  From collection-drives to staffing community culture fairs, my experience working with different organizations through the Community-Service Learning Program truly expanded my understanding of D.C. and its diversity.

My day spent working with Hola Cultura, a non-profit organization dedicated to “offering tribute to Latino culture” at their second annual TamalFest was probably my most enjoyable and memorable experience.  TamalFest, an all-day event held at Bell Multicultural Elementary School in Columbia Heights, is arranged by Hola Cultura in order to highlight local cooks specializing in Latin American cuisine, as well as provide a community event that forms a “bridge between those interested in cultural events and its producers.”

I arrived to TamalFest at 9am on a Sunday, and immediately got to work with a few other local volunteers arranging tables in the cafeteria of Bell Multicultural Elementary School for the cooks to offer their tamales and other cuisine.  Following this, we helped local Latin American-style folk artisans set up their stations along the hallway leading to the entrance to the Cafeteria.  These artisan stations were an additional part of TamalFest, designed to highlight additional aspects of Latin American culture and provide a space for local artists to sell their wares.  After working for several hours arranging tables, hanging decorations, helping cooks and artists set up their stations, and filling balloons, the doors finally opened to the public, and the smell of cooking Tamale quickly filled the cafeteria.

Several hours later, the visitors to TamalFest voted on their favorite tamale’s from the event, and the TamalFest People’s Choice Awards were given out.  The People’s Choice Award is meant to include the community directly in the event by having them vote, while also providing an award that can be displayed in the cook’s restaurants.  Following this, myself and the other TamalFest volunteers and staff broke down the event, and worked with school staff to return everything to its proper place.

I loved taking part in this event because it allowed me to gain exposure to a part of the D.C. community that I previously had not had much experience with, and also because it allowed me to support a community organization in its work raising up Latino voices and the arts.  I loved getting to work with so many different people at TamalFest, and especially enjoyed the delicious cuisine that I got to snack on after the event ended.  If you are interested in this year’s TamalFest winners, please check out these two videos!

Kadija Bah, Martha’s Table

When I found out that my global hunger class requires students to volunteer at an offsite nonprofit, I was not too happy about it. When would I find the time to volunteer? Do the hours include the travel time? Maybe I’ll go to the closest organization in the area with the most glamorous work? These thoughts flooded my mind and it ended up being a burden just to pick a location. Initially, my heart was closed to the idea of spending the little energy that I have on others, when sometimes I don’t even have enough for myself. Luckily, my experience at Martha’s Table changed my mentality and opened my eyes toward the importance of volunteering as well as understanding the homeless issues in the city.

When I was a freshman, I knew I wanted to give back to the community in some shape or form. I volunteered with Meals on Wheels, a food delivery program to senior citizenships, but I was looking for a volunteer opportunity that catered to different individuals. Shortly after that, I signed up for a shift at Martha’s Table, and participated in McKenna’s Wagon, a program that offers meals from a truck. I slowly became busier but returned to this site because of this class. To be honest, I’m glad I did.

Early last month, I walked onto 14th street and instantly noticed the gentrification. When one looks to the left, there are upscale restaurants and condominiums, but on the right, there are shaggy apartments and small businesses. Martha’s table is located on the less glamorous side of the street, and many low-income individuals stood around the place; almost as a place of food safety and a community space. When I first entered Martha’s table, I expected to interact with the homeless during meal times and spend the majority of the time with other volunteers in the kitchen. Luckily, my supervisor equally divided my time between interacting with clients and serving behind-the-scenes. I had the freedom to choose what task I wanted to work on and whether I wanted to continue in the kitchen or dining area. Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to speak to the clients about their personal experiences due to the amount of people who came to eat a meal. While I could get a sense of the organization’s role and the work Martha’s Table is doing, I was exposed to some of the issues surrounding homeless residents themselves.

During my second shift at Martha’s Table, I volunteered with my classmate Nancy. I thought we were just going to help clean up like last time, but in this Food Wrap-Up Program, we were able to serve dinner from 4:00pm to 4:45pm. As we set up our serving station, many people were lined up around the back of the building. The staff gave the volunteers advice on how to talk to the clients and urged us to see them as regular human beings in a difficult situation, not victims. I thought about how those who have the power to dictate how the marginalized are treated or represented often treat others as “less than.” The marginalized were portrayed and treated like people who just needed to be helped, but there isn’t any focus on the complexities, depth, or nuances of the individual.

I decided I did not want to treat the homeless as inferior at all, and I could tell they didn’t know whether I would act awkwardly around them. After reflecting on this, I made the effort to smile, make eye contact, and say “How are you?” I wanted to treat them like human beings and they noticed it too. It was important not to just serve their food and rush them out of the line, but I could tell they wanted to have a conversation with the new volunteers. The staff would say things like, “I haven’t seen you in a while, are you doing okay?” or “are you going to get the turkeys in Southeast for thanksgiving?” Everyone was glad to hear genuine, friendly conversations. The responses ranged from “good, can’t complain” to “not so good, I’m looking for a job.” Through their responses, I realized that the issues of homelessness are not limited to not having money for a meal, but lack of employment or housing as well. I even snuck a few extra treats for those that asked for them, because, at that moment, I could see not just another homeless person, but a friend who needed a late night snack. During that moment, I noticed that I had lost my heart for the homeless while being in the city, because I see homeless on almost every corner; these interactions reminded me that each individual was complex and important. In the future, I will definitely stop in my journey to say a greetings and ask how their day is going.

Throughout dinner, I was in charge of distributing lemonade, but I noticed how we ask the clients, “what would you like?” rather than stuff food into a bag or just direct people to take it. The clients also didn’t touch any of the food, but we serve them. This volunteer-client dynamic allowed the homeless person to feel respected, especially when they may not receive respect on a daily basis.

When we offered the homeless the food choices during dinner, some clients would ask “what is in there?” or “who cooked it?” or “Can you leave that out?” These requests were not due to food allergies, but personal preference. They also have many nonprofit organizations in DC that they could go to for dinner, so the access to this food allows them to be more selective. Martha’s Table always strives to serve nutritional meals to the homeless. For instance, they used whole-wheat bread for the sandwiches, chicken with brown rice for the Cuban chicken, rice and beans, semi-sweetened lemonade, and lots of water. After everyone was served, most individuals would sit and eat together in the parking lot. I also thought about my personal experiences, of how people are more likely to gather when food is present.

Overall, my volunteer experience was memorable and pleasant. I learned that one cannot assume that homeless people look a certain way or live a certain lifestyle. People from all walks of life used the nonprofit’s food service, and these individuals may just need a helping hand in a temporary and difficult situation. I also noticed the complexities of each individual; one cannot just see one as homeless and neglect their likes, dislikes, and environment. Originally, I thought I’d just be making some sandwiches and checking off hours for a class, but I ended up reflecting on myself and how I see the homeless in a new perspective.

Beverly Ramos Lopez, La Clínica del Pueblo

My name is Beverly Ramos Lopez and I am a first year Public Health/Health Promotion Double Major at American University. As a participant through the Community Service Learning Program I connected my Multicultural Health class to the service I did at La Clínica del Pueblo. At the service site I have had the opportunity to work alongside the people who work in the finance office, volunteer coordinator’s office, and have assisted in outside events throughout the community in local health fairs. As a volunteer I have assisted in any ways I can in different parts of the clinic, even with patients and for the people of the community I sometimes serve as a translator.

One of the local health fairs I volunteered at was at La Union Mall which is in an area that is predominantly populated by Hispanics and Latinos. This event was very eye-opening to me because it showed me how different areas in our community could be so diverse and require other healthcare needs that we are not always aware of. I was able to promote the attendance of the people at the fair informing them about the event in Spanish in order to set aside the cultural barriers that are often what creates conflict when seeking healthcare. My expectations were to really assist in any aspect and area that I could in the clinic especially because it is in an area that has high demand for healthcare needs. I expected them to need help with organization in the office since they are now expanding to a new location, leading them to need help moving out.

The experience has truly met my expectations as I have learned not only how to interact more easily with the members of the community, but also developed skills in how to work in a quick-paced environment that needs efficient work in a small amount time. Throughout my service experience I have been surprised by the way I am treated in the clinic which is in a very respectful and welcoming manner. Not that that is not what I expected from a clinic, but it is just because I thought the workers would be so preoccupied it would be difficult to interact with them as much. However, the service experiences showed me the opposite as everyone is very kind and friendly making me feel optimistic about wanting to continue my service there, I just feel very appreciated it and it has allowed me to feel more motivated.

The connections that have been made to my class are that it is really crucial for healthcare providers to become culturally competent if they are really wanting to aid their target population. I observe this by how different the setup of the clinic is compared to others, the walls are colorful not white, the patients are always greeted warmly by the front desk instead of in a rushed and cold manner, the patients are known and feel cared for at a more personal level, and the space is very welcoming. All this matters in a Hispanic and Latino community because they are a population that is collectivistic and La Clínica del Pueblo understands that so they aim to be culturally appropriate which leads them to have patients want to come back and learn that it is important to care for themselves and their families in a preventative manner and to not seek only after they get sick. My biggest learning take-away from participating in my service is that health is not just about whether someone can access healthcare services, it is about the actual patient and their individual aspects of life that are not always consider. The smallest detail neglected to be acknowledged by the healthcare provider can actually be one of the causes which means in the healthcare field there needs to be more work done then just learning how to diagnose what is seen.

Alexandria Morrison, Horace Mann Elementary School Community Garden

My name is Alexandria Morrison and I am a junior in the School of International Service
studying International Relations with interests in Global Health and Sustainability. Over the course of the semester I have been volunteering with two organizations that aid issues of food insecurity and general community health. The majority of my service this semester, roughly 25 hours so far, has been with the community garden at Horace Mann Elementary School in Northwest, D.C., which supports Friendship Place, a homelessness non-profit. However, I have also served Common Good City Farm for four hours, an organization that focuses on food security and health education within the community of LeDroit Park. Both organizations support their causes with community garden systems that have been put in place to educate the community and enable community members to be able to make the most knowledgeable decisions regarding their health.

At each site, I have mainly spent my time serving in the gardens directly, with a variety of physical tasks that help to keep the gardens functioning properly. At Horace Mann, I serve as the assistant to the garden coordinator. Some days I pull weeds for three hours straight, other days are spent planting garlic or preparing garden beds for the approaching winter season and maintaining the year round hydroponic towers. However, each Friday morning I consistently assist in an educational program for the pre-school students at Horace Mann who are learning the importance of proper nutrition and sustainability through hands-on lessons in the garden. Though I have not participated in this particular program, I am aware that Common Good City also has an after school program that provides an educational space for the children of the community to grow in the garden.

With previous experience in the District’s community gardens and nutritional
education programs, I went into this service opportunity excited to explore deeper into issues of food security. I had hopes of working directly with community members, on the issues that are important and valid in their lives. I cannot say that this directly happened. Previously, I was not as excited about working with children, however, this semester I have enjoyed my educational lessons more than I could have imagined. Though they may not realize that nutritional education and food security are issues that affect their lives and their communities, I do believe I am making an impact, though small, in the way they will deal with these issues in the future. I am grateful that I have been able to interact with a school that emphasizes the importance of the environment in educational practices, though I do realize that this is most definitely not the case in other public schools throughout this city, and rather an effect of the affluence of the community surrounding Horace Mann.

Sonia Naseer, Community of Hope

The non-profit service-learning site that I participated in is Community of Hope. I worked with grade school children who come from families that struggle with poverty and homelessness. I am forever grateful for the unforgettable experiences I have gained through Community Service Learning Program (CSLP) opportunities. At first, I struggled in trying to find the right opportunity as I had several personal requirements. Primarily, I needed a site that would advance my knowledge and experiences. This would be a place where I can offer all my help and skills to the best of my ability. Having a full schedule already as a full-time college student, a member of a sports team, an EMT trainee, and working long nights as a waitress, I thought it would be nearly impossible to find a site. Nevertheless, CSLP did a great job staying by my side helping me throughout this whole process. Preparing us from the start, they did inform us that sometimes it is a struggle (especially with my schedule) to find the right program but they are always there to help. They were very approachable and gave us great opportunities to sign up for. I now look back and realize that through this struggle, I gained a lot more experiences than I initially anticipated.

I volunteered at a few sites before Community of Hope, one of them being Glen Echo Fire station (as an ambulance ride along). I loved it so much that I’m continuing to be a member there as an EMT, and that is why I had to choose another site. I then quickly applied to volunteer at Community of Hope. This place fits me like a glove. It is now home to me and brings me to feelings of triumph, gratification, and humility. There really is no way to describe the deep joy I feel when I walk into the kid’s club and hear cheers of delight, “Ms. Sonia is here!” Emotions flutter around me like a gentle spring rain as little enthusiastic people present their activities to me and wait for my reaction of astonishment. They just want someone to believe in them. Being able to be that person with whom kids are eager to ask help in solving a puzzle with them, reading to them, helping them with their homework, or even helping you clean up together truly humbles me. 

One of the many activities we prepared that connected to my health promotion class was familiarizing the kids with the ChooseMyPlate icon introduced by the United States Department of Agriculture. MyPlate was meant to help people make healthy food choices about the foods they choose to eat. The icon emphasizes and illustrates the serving sizes and colors of the fruit (red), vegetables (green), grains (orange), protein (purple), and dairy (blue) food groups. This opportunity built my character, strengthened my education and cultural competency. Not only is Community of Hope a place that I look forward to after a long day at school, but a place that drives my passion to help others even more. This site is exactly the experience I was looking for and I’m proud to say that CSLP offered it to me. Many would assume the children benefit from volunteers, but I am convinced it is people like me who benefit from serving.

 

Quincy Stein, CentroNía

My name is Quincy Stein and I am a Sophomore at AU. I did a lot of community service work with children in high school and entering this year of college I knew I wanted to get back to that, so I signed up to be a part of DC Reads. DC Reads is a group that places college students with elementary and middle school students in the area who are behind grade level on reading. I chose to tutor at CentroNía in Columbia Heights which has a population of primarily bilingual students. Because I was already taking Spanish to fulfill my language requirement for my SIS major I decided to link DC Reads and my Spanish class with the CSLP program.

Though I have taken Spanish through high school, and have an interest in becoming fluent, Spanish has always been an incredibly difficult subject for me. I was terrified going into my Intermediate Spanish class this semester, and so the prospect of volunteering in Spanish was daunting. Despite this original hesitation, I am very glad I decided to go through with it. I have always loved teaching and giving back so going to CentroNía twice a week was the highlight of my semester. Yes, the language barrier was sometimes a problem, and it was uncomfortable to use my Spanish, but I made it work. I had an opportunity to practice the concepts I learned during the day, and having that extra space to practice my Spanish and gain confidence and helped me in class. In my Spanish class beyond working on grammar and vocabulary, we learned about politics, culture, immigration and some of the issues that face Latin American countries and the Hispanic population within the U.S. Though my work with my students mainly focused on reading and their homework, it felt reassuring during this frustrating time in politics to feel like I was making a difference, even if it was just a small one.

Overall, being a part of the CSLP program gave me an energy I brought back to my class, helped me improve my Spanish, and gave me joy every time I went to tutor. I am happy with my decision to link volunteer service and my academics because I think it gave me a fresh perspective on tutoring and on my role as a student myself.

Lina Alam, Common Good City Farm

Hello, my name is Lina and I am a junior studying international studies. I have been volunteering for Common Good City Farm (CGCF) during my time with CSLP and have connected this service learning to a course in SIS called Geographies of Uneven Development. Common Good City Farm is an urban farm and garden located in Le Droit Park. I have done a few different things with Common Good, including volunteering at the garden, working in the office, and volunteering at their most important fundraiser, A Night on the Farm. I didn’t have many expectations to begin with; I was just excited to have hands-on experience at an urban farm in DC and learn more about the work that goes into non-profit management. I have been surprised by all the work that goes into managing a small urban garden. CGCF is such a small non-profit, but there are so many different things that go into the running of a non-profit and farm. All the people who work at CGCF are so committed to what they do despite the heavy workload.

I have definitely found relevant connections to my critical geographies class. CGCF is located nearby a dog park and green space, and this space separates historic, wealthy Le Droit Park from a set of public housing units, which are seemingly underfunded. Some say that funding toward the green space CGCF lies on has detracted from funding that could have gone to public housing. Grappling with this contention has been hard for me, as I see the beneficial effects CGCF has had and can continue to have in the Le Droit Park community, while I also understand that public housing infrastructure is simultaneously deteriorating, gentrification is increasing, and inequality is increasing. I think my biggest learning takeaways have been that 1- running a non-profit is difficult, 2- urban planning is difficult and that the placement of institutions like urban gardens matter, and 3- that urban farms and gardens must prioritize low-income community engagement, offering plenty of programs that allow people to take home food at the end of the day.

Emily Ervin, American Councils for International Education

This semester, I have chosen to connect my Globalization and Education class taught by Professor Miller-Idriss to a volunteer experience at the American Councils for International Education. With the spread of globalization, there has been an increase in the amount of educational and cultural exchange opportunities for students as a means of expanding multiculturalism. The American Councils for International Education works alongside the State Department in order to serve students from the United States, as well as students in various countries who wish to fulfill their exchange experience here.

My role at this organization is as a scholarship evaluator for students in the Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX). The applicants in this program are from Eurasia, Europe, and Southeast Europe. The American Councils for International Education trains its volunteers to review scholarships in a way which identifies the most qualified students who are ready to spend a year with a host family in the United States while attending a local high school. This selection is made based on the applicant’s perceived motivation and ability to immerse themselves into U.S. society which is displayed in their interview and application essays.

It has surprised me how rewarding of an experience it is to be a scholarship evaluator. All of the applicants are striving to reach the same goal of coming to the United States and expanding their cultural knowledge. Their dreams are always far and wide, and their ambition seems to be unstoppable. What is incredibly touching are the responses the applicants have to questions of political, economic, and social issues which touch their lives. Each applicant has different passions towards civic engagement and social justice, including women’s empowerment issues, increasing services for those with physical disabilities, and expanding rights for the LGBTQ community. It is heartwarming to see their individual connections to societal issues and how they believe they can make an impact. The applicants see expanding multiculturalism and encompassing others’ perspectives as a strength which is an important skill in a globalizing world.

My volunteer work at the American Councils for International Education has been a valuable experience which allows me to explore the importance of educational and cultural exchange opportunities first hand. Students who are selected for the exchange programs are always those who demonstrate a sincere motivation to come to the United States and share their own culture, and then go home and share the values of civic engagement and cultural experiences learned in the United States. In Globalization and Education, we learned about expanding exchange opportunities with the hope of increasing cultural ties and bridging communities. Exchange programs are one component under the umbrella of International Education which can lead to the interconnectedness of societies, and I am happy to play a role in promoting such efforts.

Julia Hoffman, H.D. Cooke Elementary School

In the beginning of my high school career, one of the most valuable experiences I had was volunteering at the Kaleidoscope Youth Center as a tutor for elementary school students. After the center was shut down because of lack of funding, I continued as a peer tutor at my high school and a paid tutor for a middle school student. Through these exposures to the world of teaching, I discovered my passion for sharing knowledge and understanding. As a result, I made the decision to pursue a degree that will hopefully lead to a career in education policy. Through the policy route, I believe I can most effectively reach the greatest number of children and effect the greatest change.

When I came to American University this fall, I wanted to make sure that I received the best education possible to pursue this goal. At my university orientation, I learned about the Community Service-Learning Program (CSLP), which allowed me to actively engage in the DC community and earn credit for doing so. Through this program, I had the opportunity to add a credit to an education course, and I now spend four hours each Tuesday at H. D. Cooke Elementary School as a literacy tutor. I work with three girls each week through the Reading Partners program, giving them the individualized attention and dedication that they need.

I understand that this single semester of service will not fundamentally change the lives of these three girls. I understand that it will not suddenly give me a full understanding of inner-city educational systems and the unique challenges that exist within these settings. This brief introduction into the world of teaching in schools has not fully prepared me for future interactions with teachers and teacher unions. I also don’t currently have the power to make any significant improvements or change any structural deficits.

That being said, I firmly believe that any positive impact I have made is worth every minute. I have worked my hardest to ensure that these girls feel validated in their confusion, but empowered to improve and succeed. I have done my best to pay attention to the way schools actually function on a daily basis, especially in a low-income area. I have attempted to consider the different backgrounds my students come from, understanding that no single educational method is a definite recipe for success. I sincerely hope that I have helped these three girls either academically or personally through our weekly literacy sessions, because their respect and admiration has confirmed my desire to pursue an education-related career.

I am thankful that American University supported me in establishing this volunteer opportunity and validated my time and effort. Through this past semester, I have served my new local community, earned academic credit, and learned more about the practical applications of academic content through interactive experiences.

Samantha Romano, Higher Achievement Program

My name is Sam Romano and I am majoring in CLEG (Communications, Legal Institutions, Economics, and Government) with a minor in International Relations. I am connecting CSLP to my Introduction to CLEG class, and I am currently volunteering for Higher Achievement’s Alexandria center as a mentor. As a mentor, I go to Hammond Middle School in Alexandria, VA once every Monday from 5:45pm-7:30pm.

At the center, I teach a small group of two fifth grade students lessons in English Language Arts. Our lessons mostly focus around social justice with a consistent theme of “voice.” Higher Achievement chose the voice theme as a tool of empowerment for fifth grade scholars. It is about encouraging and allowing students to know that it is okay to use their voice to take action against social injustice, and many other issues.

Due to the fact that scholars have a whole school day, after-school activities, and then they go to Higher Achievement, my expectations for my scholars were that they would be engaged in the lessons; however, they might be very tired and not as focused as they would be at an earlier time of the day. I also expected for my scholars to be respectful and contribute ideas as more as a small group, instead of as individual ideas.

My expectations have been exceeded in every sense of the word. My scholars, even after having the long work day they have, are fully engaged in the lesson plans. They contribute so many ideas and make so many connections that I did not think they would make. They are some of the most mature fifth-graders I have ever met. They also have a very strong sense of individuality. Instead of thinking as a small group, they both make their own independent connections and state their own thoughts and beliefs instead of simply saying, “No, I agree with him.” While, yes they may definitely agree with each other on certain things, they are not afraid to also contribute a different thought or example as well as saying they agree. They seem to really have a good grasp on the material.

My scholars also go above and beyond in demonstrating that they really want to learn. For example, they always want to read the readings out-loud instead of having me read them. If they don’t understand something or want to delve deeper into a topic, they are not afraid to ask questions. When I ask them to make one connection or come up with one example, they come up with three. They are an absolute pleasure to teach, and I consider myself very lucky to be able to work with such amazing scholars.

In conclusion, my biggest takeaway from this volunteer work is that every student deserves an equal shot at a proper education, and that every student holds potential to learn. Watching students get excited about learning and engaged in the teachings is one of the most wonderful things I have ever been a part of.

Kaela Natale, Martha’s Table

My name is Kaela Natale and I am a sophomore studying Public Health. I am connecting the Community Service Learning Program with my Introduction to Health Promotion course by volunteering at Martha’s Table. Martha’s Table provides hot meals in multiple locations in the district every day of the year. They partner with children, families, and neighborhoods in many more ways than just a reliable meal. Martha’s Table strives to help increase access to quality education through programs at their Healthy Start Center. They provide healthy food through their Martha’s Markets and Joyful Food Markets programs, which offer free groceries to over 30 locations in D.C. They also have family supports through their Parent Success Centers that offer parents programming in addition to two Martha’s Outlet thrift stores that provide clothes, coats, shoes and household items.

Volunteering at Martha’s Table is never boring. I am always on my feet, whether it is to grab shampoo for the three month program at the outlet, or getting ingredients to make muffins for one of the markets. Volunteering at Martha’s Outlet has opened my eyes to how small acts of kindness can change a person’s life. At the outlet anyone can come in to get clothes for very low prices. The program for clothing people in need is extremely beneficial. If the person coming in has identification they are able to get three tops, three bottoms, pair of shoes, a household item, and new underwear, all for no cost every three months. When I volunteered with the food program I baked hundreds of desserts to send on McKenna’s Wagon, which is a mobile food service that is active in serving hot meals 365 days a year to three different locations in the D.C. area.

My first day at Martha’s Table I had no idea what to expect. I had explored their website to get insight on their efforts as an organization, but had never been to any of their sites to experience what they did first hand. Five minutes into my first shift, my sleeves were rolled up and I was making 500 muffins for McKenna’s Wagon. I worked with Charlie, a student from Howard University who has been volunteering at Martha’s for years. He told me that the Outlet needed more volunteers and that I should see if I could volunteer there as well. The next time I went, I worked at the outlet distributing necessities to many people from varied backgrounds. Since then I have alternated between baking, food distribution and the thrift store.

My expectations for working with Martha’s Table in the beginning of the semester were that I would meet new people, get more experience working in new environments, and learn more about new areas of our Nation’s Capital. Throughout the process, my expectations have been surpassed. Martha’s Table has shown me that any act of kindness can change a person’s life for the better. I have worked with some of the most determined and hard working people. They inspire me every day. They have shown me that every action is appreciated.

I have made endless connections from my volunteer work to the Health Promotion course I am taking this semester. The one that resonated with me the most was the healthy eating behavior guidelines I have studied this semester. We study eating behaviors to create programs like the ones at Martha’s Table. It was interesting to see them implemented and how people react to them. Martha’s Table positively affects thousands of people’s eating behaviors each year. They provide healthy alternatives to fast food restaurants. I am excited to see what else I will be able to connect this volunteering experience to. I have much to learn from Martha’s Table as I continue to volunteer at this amazing organization.

Rachel Wallace, Bethesda Elementary School

This is my second semester as a CSLP participant, and my second semester as a CSLP Program Leader. This fall I have been working at an elementary school two days a week, learning about all that it means to be a teacher and fully responsible for the care and education of 20+ children all day. Previously, I volunteered with Peer Health Exchange, a program I absolutely loved. Its mission was to give teens in disadvantaged areas the knowledge and skills they needed to make informed decisions about their health. Unfortunately, the program lost its funding in DC and had to pull out. Both of these experiences, however, have been worthwhile because they added immeasurable meaning to my life. They have allowed me to make a difference in others’ lives, but also in my own.

When I first came to AU, I decided to take it easy the first semester and not sign up for too many things right away. However, not even half way through the semester, I began to miss volunteering. I found somewhere to work and I haven’t taken a break from volunteering since. It brings such joy to my life when I work to serve others and can make a difference, even in a small way. It’s hard to explain how much fuller my life seems when I volunteer, how much more meaningful. Nothing ever gets me out of bed at an ungodly hour – except volunteering. For months, I gladly got up at 6am to travel an hour across the city to teach at a high school in a neighborhood that friends and family warned me never to venture into. Sure the metal detectors, the cops, the barbed wire were all intimidating, but when I taught the students something new, the look of understanding, the look of appreciation that I was taking the time to talk to them, made it worth it.

I know I come from a place of privilege, that I can choose to spend my time in this way. I am eternally grateful for that. And I am grateful to CSLP and the Center for Community Engagement and Service for providing me with a community of passionate, determined, social justice-warrior friends. I am only sad that as a senior, my participation in this program will soon end, but I can’t wait to see how far future students take it.

Olivia Blomstrom, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Finding A Place

I’m going to be honest: I chose my volunteer site for selfish reasons. Two months ago, I was an art history major eager to experience first-hand what it was like to work in a museum. CSLP was the perfect opportunity to accomplish that goal and work in the DC community. I sent some emails, made some phone calls, and soon enough I was on board at my first choice: the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Years earlier, I had visited on a family trip to the city, and it had been a favorite spot of mine ever since. I would be helping to run the front desk at the Luce Foundation Center, the museum’s open display of art in storage, and the very place where I had stood on my first visit and thought “How cool would it be to work here?” It was, to be incredibly cliché, a dream come true.

At least, that was my first thought. At CSLP orientation, I discovered everyone else was working for a great cause. They were tutoring at-risk high school students, or teaching English to immigrants, or gardening to provide fresh produce to people living in food deserts. And when it was my turn to introduce myself? “Oh, I’m Olivia and I’m… working in an art museum.” For the first time, I felt selfish. It didn’t help that the further I went into sophomore year, the less confident I was that I wanted to major in art history and have a future in museum work at all. I found myself longing to do something more impactful each time I sat at the Luce Center front desk. They had its own merits: free to the public, with arts education programs and cultural events, but I felt I had tossed aside working directly with marginalized groups in the community who needed help the most in order to pursue my own self-interest. I began bringing a load of guilt to my work at the museum that wasn’t constructive at all.

When meeting with Dr. Carter, the psychology professor overseeing my CSLP work, he suggested a final project relating to art therapy. This would be a logical way to bridge my psychology curriculum and my art-related work, but I was at a loss for something art therapy-related I could do at the museum. Lo and behold, looking through pamphlets at work later that week, I discovered that the Luce Center has a weekly sketching workshop, open to all visitors. Perfect. I signed up to volunteer at the next session, and it didn’t take long to realize this was exactly what I needed, not just for my project, but for myself. Held on weekday afternoons, the workshop consists mostly of retired seniors. As they chatted away with each other as they took out their sketchpads, I got a sense of what a sense of community there was in the group, the kind of community I had been feeling guilty for passing up. Museum work isn’t going to save the world, and that’s okay. I love working with the group each week, and I enjoy my work at Luce much more now that I’ve realized sitting around feeling guilty wasn’t doing any good. As it turned out, I just needed to stop wallowing, stop putting so much pressure on myself, and look around for the right opportunity.

Miracle Smith, Higher Achieve Program

In the Community Service-Learning Project (CSLP) I have been able to work on Higher Achievement Curriculum. While Working on Higher Achievement Curriculum I’ve been able to work alongside with my American Constitution Professor, Professor Lara Schwartz, and a PPL scholar, Asha Smith, on social justice curriculum for 8th graders. During this curriculum, we are trying to come up with lesson plans for teachers to be able to incorporate the Constitution and Social Justice inside their classrooms. One main aspect of this project that I’ve been working on is incorporating arts and creative exercises for students to understand the lessons. The overall topic that the students will be discussing in this class in the differences in dress code for girls and boys. In the exercises the children will be able to tell how they feel about dress code, as well as communicate with their other peers their concerns (if they have any). This allows students to be able to learn how to debate from an early age as well as listen to other’s opinions and learn how everyone sees things differently. Aside from this project I also work at the National Higher Achievement Office where I work on uploading curriculum for DC, VA, PA and Maryland.

Being extremely interested in Education Policy I enjoy working on the curriculum and seeing the thought process that goes into trying to reform curriculum. I also am interested to see the final truly and see how the kids potentially react to the things they’ve been learning in class. I am thankful for CSLP for giving me this opportunity to explore Higher Achievement as well as learn how I can potentially be an agent of change now for younger students.

I would recommend the CSLP Program to any individual who wants to be an agent of change and impact their community. I always say one person can make a huge difference and CSLP gives individuals the opportunity to be that one person. DC is a place where you’re able to work on education, poverty, youth mentorship and so much more so take advantage of that. Know that these people you’re helping do value you and the time you give and just go in it with an open outlook. At the end of the process you’re going to not only teach and help others but you’re now teaching yourself.

One thing I learned from being a part of CSLP is that your help is valued and no matter your grade level you can acquire tasks which challenge you. The program isn’t just to help people it’s also to experience things you’ve never experienced and put your best foot forth. At the end of the day someday in your life you’re going to be the person of influence so start where it counts, impact lives and be passionate about what you’re doing. The more passionate you are the more you will take away from the program. I will do CSLP again maybe even in a different spectrum I’m not used to! #GOAU #CSLPROCKS

Ruchelle Buenaventura, Iona Senior Services

Iona Senior Services, St. Alban’s Wellness Center, is a place that I call home. Starting as an eager volunteer, Iona made me appreciate the community to a larger aspect. I learned that volunteering should not be for the resume, but how an individual can impact the community holistically. Many students in the millennial generation tend to perceive community service as a necessity for the resume, trending with the white-savior complex; however, it is much more than that. At Iona, I assisted the elderly wellness center with approximately 30 participants daily through interactive activities such as cultural and health dialogue, while also distributing meals, conversing with the participants, and designing a program day for seniors to share skills with college students in order to entice memory and social wellness.

Throughout this experience, I made close ties with the senior participants at the center. In fact, several of them expressed their personal issues with me as I came in every week, which was quite interesting from my perspective. I learned how their community functioned, specifically their everyday lifestyles ranging from living alone to having relatives that work during the day. Though, a commonality stood as the need to socialize with others in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This social factor was incredibly important to seniors, which I did not realize in the past. This was the pinnacle concept to understanding my purpose at Iona – to communicate with seniors in order to enhance their insights of everyday life. As a young college student, I have the ability to connect with participants through my youthful experiences, academic interests, and personal life in order to bring them joy. Sometimes my experiences remind them of their own youthful days, which result in rewarding stories of their identities. While I have the ability to retrieve stories from participants, they reminisce on their younger days, and provide advice. In fact, one man gave me love advice specifically saying, “you may have a lot of small fires in your life, but you have to wait for your biggest flame”.

Apart from my experiences with the seniors, the staff dynamic at Iona is a humble welcome to anyone that steps in the building. Personally, I have a close relationship with the program director, Courtney Tolbert, where we form dialogues about race, gender, and age disparities. Some issues we talk about are implemented into the Wellness Center Program, such as cultural activities and race dialogues. It is important to be aware of current issues and to have dialogue about them in order to entice critical thinking, especially for seniors who may be entranced in traditional ways. As a program director, Courtney creates a friendly dynamic with the volunteers, a leadership style that persists on relationship building for community growth. This benefits the seniors due to the friendly environment that they are surrounded with.

As a result, my time volunteering with Iona Senior Services matured my approach on volunteerism. In an internship-centered environment, it is important to understand that volunteerism is not about the hours or resume, but about the personal passion that advances the community’s needs.

Katie Seigle, Bread for the City

13.2% of all D.C. residents are food insecure (DC Hunger).  Food insecurity is not only a lack of access to food, but also to nutritious, affordable foods.  Food insecurity and hunger are prevalent health and social problems in locally, nationally, and globally, and an issue I am extremely passionate about.  Though I’ve spent my college career learning about the social and cultural roots of hunger, there was only so much of the lived experiences of those suffering from food insecurity I could understand through my nearly unlimited access to TDR and its bottomless, fresh salad bar and vegetables—whether I utilized all the healthy food or strictly went for Mac and Cheese Wednesdays is a different story.  Whatever I chose to eat, I always had the options for healthy, nutritious, fresh foods.  I wanted to get out in the community, help those dealing with food insecurity, and try to understand how larger structural and cultural forces shape how these communities access nutritional food.  Especially being an anthropology major, connecting with the communities rather than just learning about them in books or articles is extremely important to understanding the larger issues.

Luckily enough, American University offers the Community Service Learning Program (CLSP).  Through CSLP, I paired one of my courses, ANTH-421: Health Geographies, and a local nonprofit, Bread for the City (BftC) in the Shaw neighborhood of D.C., with the goal of connecting how place of residence can impact food access.  At Bread for the City, I mainly do administrative work, like scanning and uploading documents and adding new volunteer contacts to the SalesForce data.  Though my administrative work might not seem to directly help those in need, it frees up time for the actual staff to work with the community.  More recently, I had the opportunity to join the BftC team in their SouthEast facility in the last farmer’s market of the year, where we gave out free bags of potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, and cabbage.  I have also started working the food pantry at the Shaw facility, where I bagged 6 cans of vegetables with rice and a meat.

I didn’t have many expectations going in, but I have been extremely grateful for this experience.  I’ve been able to get out of the AU-Tenleytown bubble, see a new part of D.C., and help out those in need.  The Community Service Learning Program also allowed me to connect a local neighborhood, like Shaw, with the spatial theories I learn in my Health Geographies class, like how one’s residence can influence one’s health from access to grocery stores and public transportation to social support within the community.  As a volunteer with Bread for the City, I’m able to ensure people receive healthy, nutritious food, but it also gives me the opportunity to understand how nonprofits fight hunger and the needs of the community that can let me work towards solutions that will end food insecurity at the structural level.

Works Cited

DC Hunger.  “Facts on Hunger.” 2016.  Online http://www.dchunger.org/about/facts.html

 

Rebekah Hein, Mary House

Coming back after an initially rough first-year experience, I unpacked my dorm room, placed my textbooks on a dusty bookshelf, and hoped that this year would be far different from the last.  I felt that my AU experience lacked connection to any greater cause.  I was just simply going to class each day without really looking forward to much.  My world view consisted only of what I came across in fluorescent-lit classrooms, TDR, and in the rare red-line metro trips that only ever carried me as far as Dupont Circle.  I felt completely disconnected from Washington, D.C., a city with so many diverse and complex issues waiting to be explored.

As such, my interest was piqued by the prospect of connecting a D.C. site to the material being learned in one of my courses.  I saw it as a means to branch out, to burst the isolated AU bubble I had become so comfortable within.  It also helped that the course offering the CSLP option for credit was one that I enjoyed and was excited to delve into within the coming weeks of the semester.  So, when I learned about Mary House and its after-school program, it seemed like a perfect place for me to enrich my studies.  I’d always enjoyed working with kids.  In addition, I had a lot of previous experience teaching, in fact, I really enjoyed it. At the most, I assumed my job would entail help a few kids with their homework for a couple hours a week.  Promptly after,  would return to the comforts of my white-walled dorm room, maybe making a few professional contacts along the way.  But my experience has ended up being so much more than that.

Mary House is a local non-profit organization that offers support to homeless families in the D.C. area, particularly immigrant and refugee status families.  Within the various services Mary House provides for these families is the after-school program, the portion of the organization where I began my volunteer work in September.   Among many things, my duties include reading stories to program attendees, cleaning up spilled snacks, and monitoring homework and craft time.  As such, my initial assumptions about the job requirement were quite accurate.  However, despite the seeming mundaneness, my work at Mary House has allowed me to tap into complex issues surrounding educational practices within the United States.

To start, the obvious multicultural setting brings inclusive educational practices into sharp focus.  Most of the students are first generation or generation 1.5.  As such, their inclusion in mainstream school systems is an added obstacle to compete with not only in the D.C. public school system but also in the United States and even more broadly overseas.  These obstacles are especially relevant in the context of world migration patterns, more specifically with the prevalence of the migrant crisis in Europe.  People have always been on the move; however, their rights and inclusion is something scholars are only just beginning to consider in terms of infrastructure, i.e. education systems.  This leads me to think more critically about the best inclusive education practices and the obstacles this population of students faces in an academic context.  Not embodying this identity myself, working with the children of Mary House has given me a greater respect for the struggles of immigrants and their families in regards to educational acquisition.  It is important to consider what structures exist to support this population of students in order to provide them with the best education opportunities possible.  Mary House does some work better include immigrant children; however, I can’t help but wonder what their schools are doing to ensure they have as equal access to a quality education as any other student.  This is something that my community service project has enticed me to further investigate, inclusive education practices being something I wish to further research and observe.  There are so many facets to consider for both the student and parents alike: language acquisition, emotional support, academic support, information sharing, and much more.

Thus, in my short time at Mary House, I’ve completely burst from within the AU bubble, launching myself into a discourse of inclusive education practices.  I’ve really been propelled to examine what D.C. public schools are doing to foster more inclusive education, both for immigrant students as well as for students of other marginalized groups.  As I finish out the semester with Mary House, I hope to better understand what is being done to include vulnerable populations and how this translates within the United States and internationally alike.  Having taken a chance on an opportunity to distract myself from the drudgery of academia, I ended up finding a subject of passion in which I hope to dedicate much more of my time.

Isabella Dominique, Higher Achievement Program

My name is Isabella Dominique and I am a freshman at American University. I am currently majoring in CLEG (communications, law, economics, government), but I’d also like to double major in Political Science and minor in German. I am connecting my CSLP credit to my Introduction to CLEG class. I felt this was the most fitting of choices because we are exploring the avenues of America’s education system, as well as the logistics of free college. My knowledge gained from DC Reads would apply well to the content I am learning in Introduction to CLEG.

I volunteer at the Higher Achievement site for DC Reads. Higher Achievement is program that is offered from 6-8pm on select weekday nights. Scholars from grades five through eight are welcome to attend. Each night, we are given a curriculum that supplements what the scholars have already learned during their normal school hours. However, we teach them different ways to better retain that information and apply it to their own lives. As a volunteer, I form bonds with my scholars and I ensure that they are actually learning all the curriculum asks of them. Since the groups of scholars are generally small, it’s easier to make sure every student is confident with what they are learning.

I have been most surprised by the sheer eagerness of the scholars that attend Higher Achievement. Before I had ever gone to site, I was expecting the scholars to be less excited about spending more time after their normal school days to only do more school. However, these students do an excellent job at being kind, courteous, and passionate about becoming more knowledgeable. It makes the experience for both parties (mentor and mentee) much more enjoyable. This also works to create a strong bond between both the mentors and their scholars.

In my Introduction to CLEG class, my professor encourages us to not only find the flaws in our education system, but also how we can better fix them. She happens to be one of the individuals who helps create the social studies curriculum for the scholars. The connections are clear. Many of these students come into Higher Achievement eager; however, it’s clear that perhaps their teacher to student ratio is far too high for them to be able to succeed to the best of their abilities. Additionally, the eighth graders that attend HA are working on applications for special placement into D.C.’s top high schools. Much like the way college has systematic restricted access to minorities and poor students, private high school placement is likely just as difficult for these students to obtain. This ultimately works as a greater barrier for these students to have access to college when the time comes. In my CLEG class, we are encouraged to see how free college isn’t necessarily the right answer. Legislators must begin by evaluating these students from the beginning, which is something I’ve been able to achieve by volunteering with Higher Achievement.

Katherine Lawlor, GALA Hispanic Theatre

For the past 2 months I have been volunteering as an usher at the GALA Hispanic
Theatre in Columbia Heights, Washington D.C. through American University’s Community Service Learning Program (CSLP). I knew that after completion of 40 hours of service I would receive an extra credit added on to my Spanish class but I did not realize the many other more valuable benefits I would receive.

As an environmental science major, I recognized early on the value of knowing a second
language, particularly Spanish, so I work and do research with and in other countries and I decided to pursue a Spanish language minor. Once I learned about CSLP, I saw an opportunity to serve the local Latin American community and improve my Spanish speaking ability. I was right, since working at GALA and actively trying to speak in only Spanish, I have noticed much greater fluency and confidence in my Spanish speaking.

As an usher, I arrive in my black professional clothing ready to greet the guests and
hand out programs. That much I expected, but I was surprised how much of my job is really engaging with the guests, talking with them (mostly in Spanish), and making them feel welcome. I was also happily surprised to learn that the ushers get to watch the shows as well so I have significantly increased my knowledge of Hispanic theater and films. Once most people have arrived I help them find their seats in the theater and take my place in the back. Although part of my job is monitoring the audience- and occasionally asking people to not take photos or use their phones during the performance- I still get to enjoy the film with the audience. During intermission and afterwards as well, guest love to speak with me and others about the show and progress of the plot. I help clean up the theater then I head home with the other volunteers. That is an average 4 hours of volunteer service at the GALA and I love it. Although my job is simple, it is also integral to the production of a show or film.

I will continue to volunteer at the GALA until the completion of my Community Service Learning Program and I hope afterwards as well just for fun. I love helping theater arts as well as the Latin American community in DC. I have made close friends with some other regular volunteers as well as my supervisor that I know will last longer than my assigned 40 hours. Overall, I am happy leaving the theatre every weekend with the knowledge that I had helped the production, practiced my Spanish, and got to know the staff and guest better.

German Figueroa, Trabajadores Unidos de Washington, D.C.

My name is German Figueroa, a sophomore studying psychology in the College of Arts and Science at American University. This semester I enrolled in an amazing sociology course called Views of the Global South by professor Susan McDonic. In this class we study countries in the south part of the globe and how the imperialist period and globalization impacted that area of the world. This encouraged me to take part in the Community Service Learning Program (CSLP) where I would volunteer with a non-profit as a way to better learn the material for the class. The non-profit I decided to work with is called Trabajadores Unidos de Washington DC which means Workers United of Washington DC, whose goal is to advocate for undocumented day labor in DC. I connected it to this class because the majority of the day labors come from places like Honduras and Guatemala which are places in the global south.

My role in the site is to help Arturo Griffin the founder of the non-profits with site visits and educational projects. My expectation going in was to hear stories of how they came to this country to achieve a better living standard, in other words, to hear that the American dream was something that everyone could achieve. I was wrong; not only did I learn how neglected these people are but that they are being taken advantage of. Just a week ago, I spent 4 hours at a demonstration that Trabajadores Unidos was participating in because a woman that has been working for Wholes Food for 15 years was wrongly fire. Another example of the obstacle we confront on a daily is the day labor not getting paid after completing the job, this happens because a majority of them do not speak English or know the law.

In my Views of the Global South class, we analyze things such as how countries fall into something called the Dependency Theories, which makes it impossible for those countries to catch up with other industrial powers. While in the class I connect the dots and assumed I had a clear understanding for the reason any of the people would want to leave their countries. I was wrong once more, there was a lot I didn’t know about this. To actually hear the sacrifices people had to make in order to come into this country from the first person narrative was extremely powerful. This experience has reaffirmed my desires to want to stay in DC even after I graduate and run for the local offices in DC. It also reminds me of my experience in DC Reads another non-profit that workers with underprivileged community providing reading help. Here we learn of the inefficiency of the public school in DC just like the day labor is a problem of representation in our national government. This is two different or non-profit in DC yet they seem to share a lot of the same problems.

After this year semester, I will continue to volunteer with Trabajadores Unidos because there’s a lot of work to be done and as a person who was not born in the United States this experience has exposed my own bias and privilege. I want to help fix my backyard.

Alexis Shulman, Latino Student Fund

My name is Alexis Shulman and I am currently an undeclared major but I am in the College of Arts and Sciences at American University. I am connecting my CSLP hours to my Elementary 1 Spanish class. I am completing my hours at the Latino Student Fund, where I serve as a tutor to a seventh grader on Saturdays and during the week I help out in the office organizing reading books and imputing data from the students into the computers. Typically, when I work with my student I help her with her homework, such as a history project about the Day of the Dead or with her math homework. This is her final year in the program so she does not need as much help as some of the other kids. I also give her weekly spelling tests, all of which she scores 100 percent on. When I joined CSLP, I was looking to give back to the DC community, although I have not been here very long.

I feel that I am making a difference at the Latino Student Fund because of how I have watched my student grow. She has improved a lot since I’ve been volunteering at Latino Student Fund. I enjoy teaching her things like math on one weekend and then seeing her come back the next weekend and tell me how she did on a math test that she had during the week. I was surprised at how much I would actually enjoy doing my volunteer hours. I assumed that I would just be doing them to earn an extra credit for my class but I had no idea how much I would enjoy going every week.

I see connections to my Spanish class because many of the students have parents that have immigrated here from Spanish speaking countries and therefore, speak Spanish at home. Many of these students have parents that sit and wait for the tutoring to be over. Other parents pick their children up directly after. These parents all will speak Spanish to their child and to the director. It is helpful to hear Spanish and be exposed to it every week. I feel that this greatly improves my learning process because, as with every language, it helps to hear it used conversationally and to then be able to learn words because of context clues.

My biggest learning take away is that I feel that I have gained experience working with children and I have gained a better understanding of the Spanish language. Working with my seventh grader has taught me a lot about patience and understanding. I feel that I understand now how to work with children and how to help them gain all the knowledge that they possibly can. Also, hearing the kids speak Spanish with my director and with their parents has helped me gain a better understanding of conversational Spanish and how to use it. I really appreciate the opportunities that the Latino Student Fund has provided me with.